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Harper finding his groove at last

Apr 14, 2014, 6:00 AM EST

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ATLANTA — Ever since declaring himself “pretty lost right now” at the plate nine days ago, Bryce Harper has been reluctant to say much of anything about himself. Even though the results of the last week suggest he’s anything but lost anymore.

“I feel pretty good,” was the extent of Harper’s self-evaluation Sunday evening after another impressive offensive performance (2-for-2 with a double and two walks).

Perhaps the Nationals’ overall weekend struggles against the Braves left the 21-year-old outfielder shying away from touting any personal accolades. Whatever the case, he has been on a remarkably productive streak at the plate.

When Harper stepped to the plate Wednesday night against the Marlins, his batting average stood at .160, his on-base percentage at .192. He had yet to produce an extra-base on the season, nor had he driven in a single run. He had 11 strikeouts to only one walk.

And then Harper launched a ball into the third deck at Nationals Park, and flipped the entire script.

Since that titanic homer against Miami, he is hitting .529 (9-for-17) with four walks, giving him a .619 on-base percentage during the streak. Look at his overall season numbers now and he’s boasting a .310 batting average, .383 OBP and .788 OPS.

So what’s been the difference? Is Harper seeing the ball better? Is his timing at the plate better?

“I think it’s all of it,” manager Matt Williams said. “His swing is shorter. He’s seeing the ball better. He’s not pulling off the ball like he was, staying through it. And taking his walks, too, when they’re giving it to him. That’s good.”

Indeed, perhaps the best sign of Harper’s progress has been his penchant for not chasing balls out of the zone, for going the other way with pitches on the outside corner and drawing walks when he doesn’t get anything good to hit.

It’s a long season, and there will be more ups and downs along the way. But for now, Harper is performing like the player the Nationals believed he’d be all along, playing relaxed and reaping the benefits of it only a week after declaring himself “pretty lost.”

“You always look more relaxed when you’re seeing the ball better, so is it chicken or the egg?” Williams said. “But he seems to be seeing it better. He’s swinging at better strikes and taking the walk when they’re giving it to him. He’s doing well.”

  1. ArVAFan - Apr 14, 2014 at 6:35 AM

    Thanks, I needed something resembling good news on a Monday morning.

    Bryce, see that area over there? It’s called the Clevelander. Ball goes there, OK? And if you miss and it goes over the Clevelander, well, that’s OK, too. Oh, and that thingie in the field that looks like a cross between a carnival ride and a miniature golf decoration on steroids (as interpreted by Disney on drugs)? You can hit that, too. It won’t break (sorry).

    • natsfan1a - Apr 14, 2014 at 10:31 AM

      Aim for the Pinocchio dolphins.

  2. laddieblahblah - Apr 14, 2014 at 6:41 AM

    Perfect timing by Bryce. Just the shot in the arm the team needs.

  3. chaz11963 - Apr 14, 2014 at 7:25 AM

    Looks like the Nats will be getting some national attention for the struggles against the Braves:

    Dave Schoenfield, ESPN.com: “The Nationals are 6-0 against the Mets and Marlins, 1-5 against the Braves … which sounds a lot like 2013, when the Nationals went 6-13 against the Braves and 80-63 against everyone else. Until they prove they can beat the Braves, I’m going to withdraw my preseason evaluation of the Nationals as one of the three best teams in baseball. “

    • nats128 - Apr 14, 2014 at 7:49 AM

      Its fair to say and who can argue with that. Shape up or ship out. We were promised different and I saw pitchers who couldnt bunt, fielding errors galore, mental mistakes on the basepaths, and a new twist, bad starting pitching.

    • NatsLady - Apr 14, 2014 at 8:11 AM

      And by that reasoning, are you withdrawing evaluation of Bryce Harper as (potentially) one of the best players in baseball because he had a week-long slump?

  4. Another_Sam - Apr 14, 2014 at 7:31 AM

    Right on. But it’s not at last. It’s quick – 12 games in. And BTW the score of tonight’s game is 0-0 right now.

  5. Another_Sam - Apr 14, 2014 at 7:59 AM

    Just read yesterday’s box score. Pretty cool to see five guys in the lineup at > .300. With good hitters on the pine still.

  6. NatsLady - Apr 14, 2014 at 8:09 AM

    OK, Bryce is good. But he needs to cut down on the caught stealing, right? Not a leaderboard you want to be on.

    • Hiram Hover - Apr 14, 2014 at 8:24 AM

      +1.

    • janebeard - Apr 14, 2014 at 10:41 AM

      TOTALLY agree!

  7. Bill - Apr 14, 2014 at 8:14 AM

    Hitting: B+
    Fielding: B-
    Base running: C-

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 14, 2014 at 11:14 AM

      C is average. I think D- is more like it.

  8. Joe Seamhead - Apr 14, 2014 at 8:14 AM

    Bryce is now almost doing what we expected him to do this year at the plate. But he has been a bozo on the basepaths, and he hasn’t exactly been grace in motion in the outfield. I can’t wait to see Bryce Harper firing on all 8 cylinders in all phases of the game.I said in an earlier post that he isn’t a rookie anymore. It’s time for him to stop making rookie mistakes.

    We’ll find out what this team is made of over the next couple of weeks. They have a lot of adversity to overcome with the mounting injury list. At least one of the call-ups is going to have to shine, but more importantly the veteran leadership on this team needs to step up and lead by example with on-field performance.

    As frustrated as I get with them sometimes, a day doesn’t go by that I am not still just so very thankful that we have a major league baseball team to ride the highs and lows with, and to argue with each other over. It’s a joy to this old beer drinking curmudgeon. I never forget that we went 12,240 days between games before the return of baseball. Enjoy every day of it!

    • Hiram Hover - Apr 14, 2014 at 8:26 AM

      +1 for “bozo on the basepaths”–gave me an image of him trying to steal wearing a red rubber nose and big floppy shoes.

      • Waddueyeno - Apr 14, 2014 at 9:18 AM

        Today’s phrase thAt pays. Bravo

      • Joe Seamhead - Apr 14, 2014 at 9:53 AM

        HH, I can’t get that image out of my head! I’ll probably laugh out loud a couple of times today!

      • Chazz - Apr 14, 2014 at 12:31 PM

        That’s a clown image, bro.

    • Section 222 - Apr 14, 2014 at 10:26 AM

      and +1 for pointing out his play in the field has not been all star quality either (though he’ll probably make the ASG anyway).

  9. NatsLady - Apr 14, 2014 at 8:47 AM

    If you haven’t seen this, take seven minutes. It’s hilarious, right down the credits at the end.

    http://awfulannouncing.com/2014/video-jeff-francoeur-pranked-by-teammates-for-one-month.html

    • Joe Seamhead - Apr 14, 2014 at 9:04 AM

      Another case in point that ballplayers are not often the brightest bulbs. That was very funny!

    • nats106 - Apr 14, 2014 at 10:12 AM

      Thanks for posting this. Credit might have been the best part.

  10. Mrsb loves the Nats - Apr 14, 2014 at 8:47 AM

    I’m over the Braves series… I’m on to the fish… May even fry some fish tonight… hee hee…

    Glad to see Bryce finally coming along at the plate… but as others said, his base running blunders have been horrible… not just him though… Hopefully, we can play efficient ball tonight with no errors and our starting pitching doesn’t funk it up in the first 2 innings!

    Go Nats~

  11. mauimo22 - Apr 14, 2014 at 9:02 AM

    Taking walks? Maybe we should be giving more walks to J Upton and F Freeman too!

  12. Exposremains - Apr 14, 2014 at 9:49 AM

    You have a team with supreme confidence against the. Nats and the Nats play nervous, scared against the Braves. Confidence can beat up on talent anytime. They have to break the cycle which is not easy. Look at Freeman and Upton demaeanor …they look like they know they’ll hit a homerun

    • natsfan1a - Apr 14, 2014 at 10:35 AM

      Carrying forward:

      Maybe it’s just me but it seems like there’s always been a division team that owned us, whether it was the Marlins, Phillies, or lately, the Braves.

      • natsfan1a - Apr 14, 2014 at 10:40 AM

        Eh, I should have carried this forward to the 7:25 AM post. Oh well.

      • Exposremains - Apr 14, 2014 at 11:02 AM

        Yes I agree, its just not good when its your biggest rival.

      • natsfan1a - Apr 14, 2014 at 11:03 AM

        Good point.

  13. tcostant - Apr 14, 2014 at 9:58 AM

    After the weekend series, now I know how that coyote felt going up against that roadrunner. Better on paper, but the roadrunner always seems to gets the best of the coyote.

    • natsfan1a - Apr 14, 2014 at 10:34 AM

      Eh, we just need to order up some Acme bats. And maybe some Acme cleats. Oh, and some gloves. Um, and an anvil, maybe? Those puppies are hard to wreck.

  14. David Proctor - Apr 14, 2014 at 10:51 AM

    In 2012, the Nationals also went 1-5 against the Braves and won the division series. In fact, they lost 5 in a row at one point. The difference is that it was later in the season so nobody noticed as much. I’m not saying not to WORRY about our performance against the Braves, that’s natural. I’m just saying not to panic. There’s a lot of baseball left to be played. And by the time we play the Braves again in June, we’ll have Fister, Zim and Ramos back. Until then, we just need to tread water and not fall into a hole.

    • Sonny G 10 - Apr 14, 2014 at 12:57 PM

      Good points. I’ll try to keep those in mind.

  15. stoatva - Apr 14, 2014 at 10:52 AM

    Obviously I picked a good day to take “off” from baseball, yesterday.

    • tcostant - Apr 14, 2014 at 11:12 AM

      I still think the added rest to the two young starters, did not help. Moreover, it hurt.

      • stoatva - Apr 14, 2014 at 11:24 AM

        I thought it was the right decision when he made it, so I’m not gonna go back on that now.

        They just need to make the Marlins pay for their bad weekend and get ready for the Cardinals.

      • tcostant - Apr 14, 2014 at 11:38 AM

        I really think MW looked at the number and concluded that he rather have Stras face the Marlins than the Brave s(and the two young starters bot at good numbers vs. the Braves before this weekend).

  16. stoatva - Apr 14, 2014 at 11:42 AM

    Boz:

    The Nats had a chance to knock the Braves down in April if they’d gone 4-2 or 3-3 and give them a standing eight count. They squandered it. And the Braves TOOK it. Teams like the Nats, after Game 5 and the sickly first 111 games of ’13 are in danger of getting a reputation that no team wants — bad under pressure. You can’t avoid it. You have to face it. It may not be an 800-pound gorilla yet, but I’d say it’s gaining on 400 pounds. When people say the Nats lack grit to match their talent, these series are an example. Matt Williams has gotten an up close look, and feel for the problem. He’s been in the dugout as the Sunday game turned into a 10-2 stinker. How do you add mental toughness? Thed Nats certainly had it as underdogs in ’12. With MANY of the same players. How do they regain it now as an overdog team?

    Over to you, Matt, what’s your answer?

    • stoatva - Apr 14, 2014 at 11:53 AM

      The Nats have a chance to face their OTHER nemesis __the Cards__ in four games at home this week. So if they want to show that they can play with poise against a contender who’ss been confident against them in the past, then do it Thursday-through-Sunday. You don’t always get a chance to atone quickly. Nats are banged uip. That’s bad. Gives them the chance to band together __as they did in the face of even worse injuries early in ’12. That’s good. Or could be.

  17. veejh - Apr 14, 2014 at 12:05 PM

    So happy I was out of town this past weekend. I may have smashed my TV.

    • Sonny G 10 - Apr 14, 2014 at 1:00 PM

      I got a chuckle out of that. :)

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