SEATTLE — Michael Harris II was promoted from Double-A Mississippi to stabilize the Braves’ outfield defense, which was a liability before his arrival. Just over three months later, the young center back is one of the main reasons Atlanta are back at the top of the National League East standings.
Harris continued to make the difference as the Braves cruised to a 6-4 victory over the Mariners on Friday and secured sole possession of first place in Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador for the first time. This year. The young outfielder underlined the series-opening victory with a brace and an impressive home run to the opposite court.
“He’s a fun watch and he’s a lot of fun to be around,” Braves pitcher Charlie Morton said. “He’s usually quite calm, but he’s still an integral part of the club with his energy and personality. Then the talent, it’s just ridiculous.
With their eighth straight win, the Braves moved half a game ahead of the Mets, whose Friday night loss to Miami knocked them out of first place for the first time since April 11. Atlanta moved into a tie for first place on Tuesday night. , but backtracked when New York swept a doubleheader at Pittsburgh on Wednesday.
When Harris was called up to the Majors on May 28, the Braves were 7½ games down and needed a center back who could create some stability in the outfield. Four games into their career, Atlanta was 10½ games behind. But the defending World Series champions have since gone 64-24.
“It shows how determined we are to win and how badly we want to win,” Harris said. “We were 10 games behind at one point, and now we’re leading the East. That was our main goal. We got there, and now we’re just trying to keep it.
It’s no coincidence that the Braves have surged since the arrival of Harris, who hit .312 with 16 home runs and an .897 OPS in his first 91 games. The 21-year-old Atlanta star has become widely respected, but perhaps not as widely recognized as Mariners rookie center fielder Julio Rodríguez, who hit .271 with 23 home runs and an .811 OPS and held center stage at the Home Run Derby.
Harris has spent most of the past few months as the youngest player in MLB (now the second-youngest behind Gunnar Henderson of the Orioles) and this is only his second full professional season. But he appeared to come onto the scene with confidence and aggression, which he showed when he turned a single into a double to start the fourth inning. His trick slide positioned him to score on Robbie Grossman’s RBI single.
“I like to use my speed to my advantage,” Harris said. “It was one of those times when it was the right time to do it.”
Harris also opened the sixth inning with a home run that easily went over the left field wall. The 369-foot shot was the longest backfield homer hit by a left-handed hitter at T-Mobile Park this year. It was just another example of the sheer power possessed by the young slugger, who hit nine of his 16 home runs to center or opposite court.
“When he hit the ball the other way, it’s just crazy for me to see him do that,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “My God. He can beat you with all the tools — with his arms, his legs and his power. He just keeps blowing my mind.
Although he didn’t make his debut until the last week of May, Harris entered Friday leading all rookie position players with a 4.2 WAR, according to the FanGraphs metric. The only rookie with a higher fWAR was Braves right-hander Spencer Strider (4.4).
Time will tell if Harris or Strider wins the NL Rookie of the Year award. But for now, the two are committed to helping the Braves win a fifth consecutive division crown and a second consecutive World Series ring.
“It’s a very, very good clubhouse and [Harris] was such a big part of it,” Morton said.