Can Harper dig Nationals out of hole in left?

April, 28, 2012
4/28/12
2:50
PM ET
Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIREBryce Harper will make his major-league debut at Dodger Stadium on Saturday night.
The Washington Nationals have announced they are promoting Bryce Harper for Saturday’s game against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

While it's not yet known what role he will play, it's also unclear whether Harper is ready. The 19-year old has seen his performance decline with each promotion, from a .554 slugging percentage at Single-A to .375 this season at Triple-A.

Harper will make his major-league debut against right-hander Chad Billingsley. So far this season, Billingsley is holding left-handed batters to a .182 batting average (8-for-44), lower than the .209 that right-handed batters are hitting against him (9-for-43).

In his career, Billingsley strikes out both lefties and righties just over 20 percent of the time. He does an exceptional job of keeping lefties in the park, having allowed only one home run every 66 at-bats, compared to one every 39 at-bats by right-handed hitters.

Harper will be the sixth teenager to debut in the majors in the last 10 seasons. The last was Mike Trout for the Los Angeles Angels. In a surprising piece of symmetry, Trout was recalled by the Angels after Friday’s game and should also make his season debut on Saturday.

Although it's possible that Harper will play centerfield and Rick Ankiel will slide over to left, he is most likely to play leftfield. The Nationals have received almost no production from their leftfielders this season, ranking last in the majors in batting average (.093), on-base percentage (.200) and slugging percentage (.120).

Harper will be joining a team that is off to one of its best starts in franchise history. Despite losing their last two games, the Nationals are 14-6, that's tied for the second best start after 20 games in franchise history, trailing only the 15-5 start by the 1979 Montreal Expos.

The key the Nationals success this season has been their pitching. In a stretch that ended on Wednesday, Washington's starting pitchers tossed 26 consecutive scoreless innings. It was the longest streak for the franchise since 1989, when Kevin Gross, Dennis Martinez, Bryn Smith and Mark Gardner combined for 27⅔ consecutive scoreless innings for Montreal.

Harper’s teammate and former No. 1 pick, Stephen Strasburg, will take the mound for his fifth start of the season on Saturday. Strasburg has gone at least six innings allowing two or fewer runs in each starts this season, and Washington has won all four games.

Harper and Strasburg signed two of the largest guaranteed contracts in MLB draft history. Harper agreed to a major-league contract with $9.9 million in guaranteed money, the most ever given to a position player in the draft, breaking the old record of $9.5 million, held by Mark Teixeira in 2001.

The Nationals are in first place in the National League East, and the future appears even brighter in the nation’s capital with Harper and Strasburg on the diamond.

Dan Braunstein, John Fisher and Justin Havens contributed to this post.

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