Bryce Harper has made a series of debuts over the past few months, but he officially became a Minor Leaguer on Thursday.
Harper, the much-heralded No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 Draft, went 2-for-4 with an RBI single and a stolen base in his professional debut as the Hagerstown Suns edged the Rome Braves, 3-2, at State Mutual Stadium.
"I had big butterflies going out there tonight, but after that first pitch was thrown I felt really good and felt really solid at the plate," Harper said. "I had a good [batting practice] today and our guys went out there and played hard, and that's what you should expect every game from us."
Batting third for the Nationals' Class A affiliate, he singled to center field on a 3-2 pitch from Rome starter Carlos Perez in his first at-bat, plating Randolph Oduber for a 1-0 lead. The converted catcher stole second with two outs.
Harper got another hit in the third, a bunt single up the third-base line, and helped produce the Suns' second run when he was caught in a rundown after getting picked off. That allowed Oduber to race home for a 2-0 edge.
"I was really excited to get up there and when I got those two base hits I felt really good," Harper said. "I just need to be a little more patient to get my pitch and work off of that."
Harper, a catcher in high school and junior college, flashed some speed with his steal and bunt single.
"If I can lay one down and get a runner over, I think that's huge about my game," he said. "It helped us out and that's all that matters to us."
Harper struck out looking in the sixth and grounded out to second in his final at-bat two innings later.
"I tried to go up there and get my pitch to swing at and they got me in my third at-bat and fourth at-bat, so I've got to learn from those two times and hopefully get a couple of more hits tomorrow," he said.
Thursday was yet another eagerly anticipated debut for the 18-year-old, who signed a $9.9 million contract with the Nationals last summer. He appeared briefly in the instructional league in Florida last fall, then saw limited action in the Arizona Fall League. When he was invited to Spring Training as a non-roster player, there was speculation he might make a case for inclusion on the Nats' Opening Day roster.
"It's a blast," Harper said. "It's everything that I've ever wanted to do. I'm here to work hard and I'm here to win."
He hit .389 in 18 at-bats before the Nationals assigned him to Minor League camp last month. That set the stage for his official professional debut in Rome, which drew a crowd of 4,133 on Opening Night.
The Suns play two more games against the Braves and four in Lexington before Harper makes his home debut on April 15 against defending South Atlantic League champion Lakewood.