Apr 5, 2014, 6:00 PM EDT
Updated at 1:10 a.m.
Bryce Harper exudes confidence like few, if any, 21-year-olds have in baseball history. So when the Nationals left fielder shows a rare display of doubt, as he did following the Nationals’ 6-2 loss to the Braves on Saturday night, it’s perhaps more striking than any home run he hits or laser beam he throws to the plate.
“I mean, I’m pretty lost right now, actually,” the slumping slugger said. “I’m trying to see where my swing’s at, watch video of where my hands are. I’m trying everything right now. We’ll see where I’m at tomorrow. Give pops a call and see what he says, also.”
Frustration had been mounting for Harper since Opening Day in New York on Monday, in which he suffered a nasty blow to the head in a collision with Mets second baseman Eric Young Jr. He entered Saturday’s game just 3-for-17 on the season and then went 0-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts against the Braves.
Put it all together, and Harper finds himself sporting a .143 batting average, with 10 strikeouts, zero extra-base hits, zero RBI and several public displays of frustration on the field and in the dugout.
“It’s been pretty [awful], actually,” he said.
Things perhaps reached a breaking point after Harper’s eighth-inning strikeout Saturday night, when he slammed his bat and helmet down the dugout tunnel and let out a primal scream. Manager Matt Williams, who already hinted earlier he was thinking about sitting his young star for Sunday’s series finale against Atlanta left-hander Alex Wood, sounded more convinced afterward a day off is necessary.
“It’s one of the topics of conversation tonight,” Williams said. “When that frustration rears its head, it’s oftentimes good to give a day. So we’ll take a serious look at that tonight, with the off-day (Monday) coming after that.”
It’s a mere five games, of course, and Harper could see his batting average jump nearly 200 points with one good night at the plate. But his frustration level is already apparent to everyone around him.
“Everybody gets frustrated,” Williams said. “But there’s also the ability within Bryce to go a month where they just can’t get him out. He knows that. I think everybody that watches the game knows that. We certainly do.”
“When he goes through that, he does wear it on his sleeve,” first baseman Adam LaRoche said. “But a lot of times, that’s his way of getting it off his chest and being done with it. Instead of keeping his frustration in, he chooses to air it out every once in awhile and be done with it. He’s young. He’ll learn that those 0-for-4’s can turn into a whole lot worse if you carry it into the next day. He’ll be fine. We’ve all talked to him. It’s all part of the growing pains there, figuring that part out on his own.”
Williams is confident in Harper’s ability to get hot quickly for multiple reasons. The obvious: Harper is a supreme talent, one who simply isn’t going to be stuck in a major slump at the plate for a prolonged stretch. The less-obvious: Harper has had a good approach at the plate, Williams believes, not chasing pitches out of the zone.
“It’s one thing if you’re not seeing the ball and you’re off timing, swinging at bad breaking balls in the dirt,” the manager said. “But he’s missing pitches that he ordinarily hits, and that’s the frustrating part about it. … He’s gotten a lot of those, and he’s fouling them back. What do you do in that regard? Well, you keep putting him in there, because eventually it’s going to turn. And when it does, it’s special. We just keep trying to get him opportunities.”
Harper, baseball’s equivalent of a gym rat, never takes kindly to the idea of getting a day off. After speaking to reporters late Saturday night, he pulled on a pair of shorts, grabbed a bat and asked a member of the Nationals’ staff if he would join him in the batting tunnel for some late-night BP.
“I mean, I just want to swing,” he said. “I want to try to go out there and get some good ABs in me.”
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