Plenty of buzz has surrounded Bryce Harper and his full-season debut, but you wouldn't know it by looking at the crowd at State Mutual Stadium in Rome, Ga. The attendance was announced at 4,133, but there were plenty of seats available and some sections had entire rows that were empty. A few lucky fans got a picture and autograph from Harper, but they were club members. The gates didn't open for general admission until an hour before the game and Harper was in the clubhouse by then.
Rome manager Matt Walbeck was at the helm for Double-A Altoona last season when Stephen Strasburg made his debut for Harrisburg and he noticed tonight didn't have quite the same aura.
"It was still an exciting game to watch," Walbeck said. "I think between A-ball and Double-A, it's a different dynamic, but it still wasn't quite the same."
Pregame was routine for Harper. He worked to the opposite field in his first round of batting practice and then put on the usual show in the ensuing three. He hit lasers to all fields and mixed in some majestic long balls that cleared the bullpen in right-center field and the berm in straight away right. During the infield/outfield segment he unleashed his usual strong throws to every bag.
Hagerstown got on the board in the first inning and Harper was a factor immediately. In his first at-bat he worked the count full and then reached out and poked a single to center on a hit and run that scored left fielder Randolph Oduber from second base. He was then stranded after stealing second base.
"I had butterflies going into the game, but after the first pitch I felt good," Harper said. "I felt really solid at the plate, had a good BP out there today. We all played hard and that's what you should expect from us every night."
In his second at-bat, Harper swung and missed on an offspeed pitch down and away, but then squared around and pushed a bunt toward third base and got down the line in a hurry for a base hit. With Oduber on third, Harper attempted to steal, but Perez made a move to first and Harper was cut down at second base. However, Oduber did manage to score as the play developed.
Lefthander Carlos Perez, the Braves No. 11 prospect, got the start and went four innings, allowing two runs on four hits and one walk while striking out five. Harper's first two at-bats were against Perez, but he had more trouble against righthander Tyler Hess in his third at-bat. Harper struck out swinging on a fastball that was spotted well on the outside corner. In Harper's fourth and final at-bat he bounced out weakly to second base.
"I knew he was going to come at me," Harper said of Perez. "The Braves threw me pretty much the way they threw me throughout instructs, the whole spring—hard away, soft in. I tried to go up there and get my pitch to swing at. When I got those two base hits I felt really good. I went up there that third at-bat and I think he was throwing me two-seams. They were a couple inches out and I shouldn't have swung. I see that fastball and it looks like a balloon to me. I need to be a little more patient, get my pitch a little more and work off that.
Harper's bunt was his call as he saw third baseman Edward Salcedo was playing back and shortstop Matt Lipka was shifted toward second base.
"He has all the tools and he showed them all tonight," Hagerstown manager Brian Daubauch said. "He bunted a couple times in spring training. It was a definitely spot where the situation called for it. He did a great job on the outfield tonight, throwing to all the bases."
The Braves got on the board in the bottom of the sixth tying the game when designated hitter Jakob Dalfonso pulled a ball just inside of first base and past a diving Mills Rogers for a two-run double.
Hagerstown shortstop Jason Martinson broke the tie with a single back up the middle that drove in DH Wade Moore from third and proved to be the winning hit. Moore had reached on a walk, stole second and advanced to third when catcher Christian Bethancourt's throw ricocheted off his helmet and rolled into left field.
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