Harper bats third, first 19-year-old to do it in 8 years

The Nationals said Bryce Harper's first stay in the big leagues might be a short one. The Nationals protected the 19-year-old Harper by trying to play down expectations, by batting him seventh.

So much for that.

When Nationals manager Davey Johnson revealed his batting order for Thursday night's game against the Diamondbacks, Harper wasn't batting seventh.

Now the kid is batting third.

Yeah, they're going to send him down as soon as Ryan Zimmerman returns. Sure.

Yeah, he needs his expectations played down, needs the pressure removed. Sure.

Now he's the first 19-year-old to bat third since B.J. Upton, who did it just once for the then-Devil Rays in 2004. The only others to do it in the last 20 years were Andruw Jones (twice for the 1996 Braves) and Ken Griffey Jr. (four times for the 1989 Mariners). Before that, Jack Clark did it once for the 1975 Giants, and Claudell Washington did it once for the 1974 A's.

None of them held the job for very long (the last 19-year-olds to hit third with any regularity were Ed Kranepool with the Mets and Tony Conigliaro with the Red Sox, both in 1964). Harper may not; Zimmerman isn't expected to be out that long, and Johnson will certainly return him to the third spot when he comes back.

But even by batting him third tonight, Johnson is sending yet another message that the Nationals need the kid, even when Zimmerman returns.

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