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Bryce Harper at first base? Nationals take a look

July 3, 2018 GMT

The heat index was well above 100 around 3 p.m. Monday as Bryce Harper wore dark shorts, a grey T-shirt and a red baseball cap on the field at Nationals Park.

But Harper was not in the outfield shagging fly balls before the Nationals hosted the Red Sox. He was taking grounders at first base, a position he has never played at the professional level.

“Did it catch you by surprise?” said manager Dave Martinez, with a smile, about 90 minutes later. “It is him getting out of his comfort zone” in pre-game drills.

The Nationals are 4-6 when Harper starts in center field, 38-31 when he starts in right and 0-1 when he starts at designated hitter.

The Nationals’ manager certainly doesn’t plan to make Harper the everyday first baseman for the club.

The team already has right-handed batter Mark Reynolds and lefty swinger Daniel Murphy, who started at first base Monday, who can play there. And first basemen Matt Adams and Ryan Zimmerman hope to return soon from the disabled list, perhaps this month.

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But Martinez said he would have more options if Harper could play first, even for an inning in one game. The Nationals (42-40) entered Monday six games back of the first-place Atlanta Braves in the National League East.

“If we are in a pinch ... he could play there,” Martinez said of Harper. “He is actually not bad. It was good to see him out there and working with (coach Tim Bogar). He will do whatever it takes for this team to win. He wants to play everywhere. If we are in a game and maybe a double switch (is needed), it is an option we have.”

And what about Harper as a center fielder?

“He has done very well, really well,” Martinez said. “He gets really good jumps, he really does. I think he is having fun out there. We are blessed with five really good outfielders. Unfortunately, you can only play three in a game.”

Harper is in the last year of his contract and is on track to be a free agent after this season. His agent, Scott Boras, has thrown out the price tag of about $400 million for his services.

Harper, in games through Sunday, was hitting .216 in 81 games and 282 at-bats with 13 doubles, 20 homers, 49 RBI and a batting average of .216 and a slugging mark of .475. He had struck out 84 times with 67 walks, with 10 of the walks intentional. Harper was in the starting lineup in center and batting fifth for the Nationals on Monday.

Other outfielders with the Nationals are Adam Eaton, Juan Soto, Michael A. Taylor and Brian Goodwin.

Soto was named the National League rookie of the month for June on Monday.

“I can’t say enough about what he is doing,” Martinez said of Soto.

Some around baseball are even pushing Soto for All-Star consideration even though he made his debut with the Nationals on May 20 after starting the year with the low Single-A Hagerstown (Md.) Suns of the South Atlantic League.

“It feels pretty good ... first year being in the big leagues,” Soto said of that attention.

He was hitting .310 with eight homers and 21 RBI in games through Sunday. Among all National League players with 145 plate appearances, he is third in on-base average at .416.

⦁ Staff writer Adam Zielonka contributed to this report.