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Harper's debut is a smash

Come Sunday morning, I was disappointed about a hot young player who won't be coming to Buffalo after all.

And no, I don't mean the NFL draft.

Bryce Harper, the hottest prospect in baseball, was supposed to be in town with the Syracuse Chiefs on Tuesday for a four-game series against the Bisons.

It would have been the biggest day at Coca-Cola Field since Stephen Strasburg, the other Washington phenom, made his last Triple-A start before heading off for his big-league debut two years ago.

A big news conference was scheduled for Harper's arrival. The 19-year-old phenom is in demand with the media wherever he goes, so the Chiefs had been making him available on a one-shot basis before the opener of each series.

But things changed when Ryan Zimmerman went on the DL with a sore shoulder. The Nats called up Harper to the big club, even though he had been struggling against minor-league pitching.

So much for Buffalo. We'll have to wait until the first week of August, the Chiefs' next scheduled trip to town. The Nats expect to return Harper to the minors when Zimmerman comes off the DL.

At this point, I hope Harper stays in the majors. If Saturday's debut against the Dodgers is any indication, the kid was made for the bright lights.

Having him in Washington makes an evolving story even more compelling.

Harper, who started in left field, was only part of the Saturday drama. Strasburg was making his first start ever at Dodger Stadium in an early-season matchup of two division leaders.

In the seventh inning, Harper smoked a double over Matt Kemp's head and off the center-field wall for his first big-league hit. In the bottom of the inning, he uncorked a perfect throw to the plate to beat a sliding Jerry Hairston. But Wilton Ramos dropped the ball.

Harper hit a sacrifice fly to give the Nats the lead in the ninth. But the bullpen couldn't hold it for Strasburg, who gave up a run and five hits in seven innings and is 2-0 with a 1.13 ERA.

Kemp, the best player in baseball, hit his 11th home run of the year in the bottom of the 10th to give L.A. the win. On a very busy day in pro sports, baseball saved the best moment for last.

Maybe the Nats and Dodgers will meet up in the NL playoffs. The Nats are no fluke. Their top three starters (Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman and Gio Gonzalez) could challenge the Phillies as the top trio in the game.

The Nationals went into Sunday with a team ERA of 2.33 through 21 games. Opponents were hitting .206. Strasburg, Zimmerman and Gonzalez all had ERAs of 1.52 or lower and opposing batting averages under .200.

Nats management will have some big decisions if the team keeps winning.

They haven't said it publicly, but there's a belief that Strasburg, who had Tommy John surgery in 2010, will have his innings capped. But how can they shut down Strasburg, a Cy Young candidate and gate attraction, if they're in contention contending for the playoffs?

Still, Harper is the center of attention now. It was a surprise when he was called up by General Manager Mike Rizzo, who said it wasn't the "coming-out party we had in mind for Bryce."

But they were desperate for help in left. Harper, who was on the cover of Sports Illustrated when he was 16, is mature beyond his years as a player. If he keeps knocking balls off the wall and throwing darts to the plate, he'll be hard to send back.

It would have been nice to see him up close, but the baseball season kicked into another gear when he showed up in L.A. the other night. Here in an election year, change really has come to Washington.