8/10/2014 7:52 P.M. ET
Harper denies intent with stepping on Braves logo
By Joe Morgan / MLB.com
ATLANTA -- Braves fans have greeted Bryce Harper with loud boos all weekend long at Turner Field, and he appeared to respond on Saturday night by dragging his right spike across Atlanta's "A" logo stenciled in the dirt behind home plate.
Harper appeared to do it two more times but denied any ill intent following the game. The clip of the first scuffing made its way around online, and the Braves' Twitter account only added to the buzz by posting, "#RespectTheA."
"That's the last thing on my mind when I'm walking up to the plate. I really had no idea. When [a Nationals spokesperson] came up to me, I had no clue that I did anything," Harper said. "Seriously, that's the last thing on my mind going to face [Aaron] Harang or [Craig] Kimbrel or somebody like that. I had no idea why that was such a big deal. Of course, that's the last thing on my mind."
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez simply laughed the whole thing off, saying he got a kick out of the whole situation when he saw the clip on Sunday.
"I think it's silly," Gonzalez said. "I think it's just one guy being silly."
However, Gonzalez was impressed by two of Harper's teammates prior to Friday night's contest. During a pregame ceremony honoring late Braves broadcaster Pete Van Wieren, Kevin Frandsen and Ian Desmond made eye contact with Gonzalez and gestured to ask if they could get loose by jogging in the outfield.
"They were respectful to say, 'Hey, is it OK? Can we do this without [ticking] anybody off?'" Gonzalez said. "You know what, that's some class. You know what's going on, you know that this is special for the Braves family. We don't want somebody to get [ticked] off that we're running in the middle of the ceremony.
"If I see them, I'll talk to them and tell them how that's a classy move. Most guys wouldn't even think about asking. They'd just go there, so that was a good move on their part."
Harang's unusual approach leading to career year
ATLANTA -- When Aaron Harang compiled a 0.85 ERA in his first five starts this season, many expected him to eventually fade down the stretch as the Braves chased their second consecutive National League East title.
However, Harang's latest turn was just another gem in what is already a career-best season for the 13-year veteran, as the right-hander gave up just one run in seven strong innings against the Nationals on Saturday night at Turner Field.
It was his career-high-tying 20th quality start, and his 18th outing allowing two earned runs or fewer in 24 trips to the hill this season.
Meanwhile, the Braves have lost five straight Harang starts.
"He deserved a lot better than he got [Saturday]," Freddie Freeman said.
Harang has become a viable candidate for the NL Comeback Player of the Year Award, as both his 3.31 ERA and his 3.65 FIP (Fielder Independent Pitching) are career highs despite the Braves being his sixth team since the start of 2013.
Also, Harang's 2.2 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is the fourth-best mark of his career and higher than his combined 2.1 WAR of the past five seasons.
Even more impressively and improbably, Harang has compiled these numbers despite a .313 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play), his highest since 2010.
"He's phenomenal," Freeman said. "He does it every five days. He goes out there, he's a veteran guy and he just battles all night long."
Harang surrenders 9.1 hits and walks 3.4 batters per nine innings and sports a 1.39 WHIP this season, all results of his strategy that sometimes involves simply putting one hitter on base in order to face a guy he knows he can retire.
The veteran walked six batters in his seven no-hit innings against the Mets on April 18 at Citi Field. The practice initially concerned Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, but the results have more than satisfied the skipper.
"I've kind of enjoyed watching him maneuver through a lineup, because he doesn't give in," Gonzalez said. "He knows what he wants to do, and also, he has command of his pitches."
Joe Morgan is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.