The well-publicized 19-year-old former No. 1 overall draft pick helped with a game-winning rally last week and already bats third in the lineup. In a nationally televised loss to the Phillies on Sunday night, he paid back Cole Hamels for hitting him with a pitch by stealing home. Later, Harper's hustle turned a bloop single into a double.
The Nationals Park crowd already cheers his every move.
"He's fun to watch," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said.
And Washington truly needs Harper's help now. He's batting .308 through those first eight games, and Johnson will likely move Harper to right field (from left) because Jayson Werth is out for up to 12 weeks after breaking his left wrist Sunday. Werth was scheduled to undergo surgery Monday.
This is not related to the previous wrist injury that affected Werth for up to two years earlier in his career and forced him to miss the entire 2006 season.
Johnson said he'll probably use Xavier Nady, Roger Bernadina, Chad Tracy and even Steve Lombardozzi in left field. Starting left fielder Michael Morse (lat injury) has been out the whole season and hopes to return in about a month.
"I like right field," Harper said. "I like center. I can play left also. I don't care where I play as long as I'm helping the ballclub."
Rick Ankiel is back in center after injuries held him out until April 14. When Morse and Werth come back, the Nationals should have a solid outfield.
But questions remain when and if that will happen this year. There's a good chance that it might not take place until August or later.
Werth's loss is going to hurt the Nationals, but they have to keep moving forward. They are 18-10 with a half-game lead over the Braves in the National League East going into Monday's games and have been one of the biggest surprises of 2012.
Now, they'll be asking a teenager to play like a veteran on a daily basis thanks to all of those injuries.
In addition to Werth and Morse, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman is on the disabled list, and first baseman Adam LaRoche missed the Phillies series. Zimmerman (shoulder inflammation) and LaRoche (oblique problems) could both be ready when the Nationals take the field again Tuesday in Pittsburgh.
If they aren't, that means the Nationals would be without almost half of their original lineup: Nos. 3 (Zimmerman), 4 (Morse), 5 (LaRoche) and 6 (Werth).
This is where Harper could really add to his reputation.
There's no question that he likes the spotlight. Some young players shy away from it. Harper is drawn to it, and he plays hard. The crowds in Washington have picked up on that. Harper, in turn, is proud of the way he plays and said that won't change.
"I just try to go out there and bust my butt -- and try to make something happen," Harper said.
The Nationals have gently talked to him about being careful about the way he does it. Tone it down a bit, they've said. In the minors, he blew a kiss at a pitcher after hitting a home run. Actions speak louder than words is the message Washington gave its young star.
Hamels admitted later that he did drill Harper on purpose when he hit him Sunday. But Harper didn't say a thing. He just went to first and advanced to third on a Werth single.
After that, Harper simply stole home when Hamels tried a pickoff move to first. The rookie evened the score -- and he did it on national television.
The fans went nuts. The manager liked it, too.
"He's going to battle you," Johnson said. "He had a heck of a ballgame."
Nationals Notes & Quotes