Washington Nationals closer Rafael Soriano questioned Bryce Harper's defensive positioning on Tuesday, saying the star right fielder should have been in a better position to make a game-saving catch against the San Francisco Giants.
Washington owned a 2-1 lead with two outs in the ninth inning Tuesday when Soriano yielded a game-tying RBI triple to Gregor Blanco, who hit a deep line drive over the head of a leaping Harper.
Just more than a week removed from a scary collision with the outfield wall, Harper appeared to flinch as the ball sailed over his head and bounced off the warning track. Soriano did not fault Harper's effort on the play, but the right-hander told USA Today Sports that the 20-year-old phenom should have been in better position.
"With two outs and the tying run at first, you have to play the outfield so the ball doesn't go over your head," Soriano told the newspaper in Spanish. "It may not have been a catchable ball. But if we're positioned the right way, there might have been a different outcome.
"With two outs, I could tell my 4-year-old son, 'You know where you need to play,' and he would have positioned himself better. It's not an excuse, and I'm not speaking badly about anybody, but I think that's how you play the game."
Soriano, who has blown three saves in his first season with the Nationals, backtracked off those comments Wednesday, saying he thought his conversation with USA Today Sports was off the record.
"I tried to do my job, and I didn't do it," Soriano told the Washington Post. "[The play] wasn't an error. He was in the position and I threw the pitch I shouldn't have, and that's what happened.
"And after we finished talking [to the media], I made the mistake of saying that to [USA Today]. And he put it in there with what I said."
Before Wednesday's series finale against the Giants, Nationals manager Davey Johnson weighed in on the spat.
"Let's not panic here and overreact to the situation," Johnson told MLB.com "Pitch wasn't as good as it should have been, and maybe [Harper] wasn't as deep as he should have been. That's baseball. We could second guess everything that goes on in this game. I know a little bit more about it than most and I'm not concerned with it."
Johnson also spoke with Soriano, telling him the team needed veteran leadership.
Harper acknowledged he was thinking about the play last week, when he ran face-first into the wall against the Los Angeles Dodgers and needed 11 stitches in his chin. He also missed two games because of a bruised left knee before coming back Monday night.
"Of course, it crosses your mind after you jam into a wall, and it doesn't really feel very good," Harper said Tuesday after the Nationals' 4-2 loss in extra innings. "It sucks not making the play. I totally put that loss on me."
Despite the collision, Harper has been one of the few bright spots this season for the Nationals (23-23), who have struggled despite lofty expectations. Harper entered Wednesday batting .284 with a team-leading 11 home runs and 22 RBIs.
Soriano told the Washington Post that he has not talked to Harper but says that he is sympathetic to the outfielder's recent injury history.
"I understand that he's been hurt and it's hard and he's young," Soriano told the paper. "He's just been playing. I'll try next time to be better and have a better game. ... With that kid, I have no problem with him. Things happen in baseball that escape you. I can't blame him."