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Harper homers but still battling his way out of slump

Jul 12, 2014, 11:48 AM EST

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PHILADELPHIA — As the ball rocketed off his bat and soared to right field, well into the bleachers at Citizens Bank Park, Bryce Harper remembered for a moment what it’s like to hit a home run.

“It felt really good,” he said.

Harper hadn’t had that sensation since returning from the disabled list nearly two weeks ago. And he hadn’t felt that in a big-league game since April, when he hit his only other home run for the Nationals this season.

Yes, he did belt those three homers one night with Harrisburg during his game rehabbing from left thumb surgery. But as Harper has known all along, and as other have come to realize, there’s just a slight difference between Class AA pitching and major-league pitching.

“It’s a little bit different seeing 95-plus [mph] every day,” he said. “It’s two months off and coming back into it trying to get everything going. It’s going to be tough. I’m just trying to get into my routine every day, see how I feel.”

Harper had only 4 hits in 33 at-bats prior to his seventh-inning homer last night off the Phillies’ A.J. Burnett. Add his pop-out later in the Nationals’ 6-2 loss, and he’s still only 5-for-35 with 13 strikeouts since coming off the DL.

Manager Matt Williams spoke earlier in the day about the better approach swings he had been seeing from Harper in recent days, even though the results didn’t necessarily show it.

“He’s calming down a little bit,” Williams said before the game. “Early, when he first came back, he was really aggressive toward the pitcher. And he’s starting to tick it back a little bit, where he’s seeing the ball better, waiting for the baseball to get to him as opposed to going to get it.”

Harper actually was incredibly aggressive Friday night. In four plate appearances, he saw a total of only five pitches, making three outs on the first pitch of an at-bat and then hitting his homer on a 1-0 pitch.

Harper attributed that more to the strikes Burnett threw him than a calculated gameplan to go after the veteran right-hander early in the count.

“I was just trying to get some good pitches to drive,” he said. “I think he hung me the curveball in the first at-bat (a groundout). Second AB, I’m not sure what I hit, it might’ve been a front-door sinker (leading to another groundout). Third at-bat, I can’t remember. Oh, that was the homer. And then the fourth AB, he threw me a … heater right down the middle and I missed it (popping it up).”

What did Williams think about Harper’s lack of patience at the plate last night?

“It’s a double-edged sword sometimes,” the manager said. “He wants to be aggressive, we certainly want him to be aggressive in the strike zone. And if he’s swinging at strikes, then it’s OK. If he’s swinging early and swinging at bad balls, then it’s a level of concern.”

This much remains certain: The Nationals recognize the only way to get Harper’s swing back to its full potential is to keep giving him opportunities to see big-league pitches.

“You hope that a guy comes off an injury and he comes out swinging and it’s all peaches. But that’s not reality,” Williams said. “The reality is, it takes a while to get timing and focus and feeling good. You also have to look at their legs and the rigors of playing every day, how that affects the whole body. But it’s coming. He’s going to be just fine.”

  1. NatsLady - Jul 12, 2014 at 11:52 AM

    Got new-posted. JZ is still officially the Nats rep.

  2. Drew - Jul 12, 2014 at 12:39 PM

    A number of historic players who came up as teens had blossomed by 21 — Cobb, Hornsby, Ott, Kaline, Griffey Jr. to name a few.

    Mantle was very good at 21, but his Triple Crown was still a couple of years off.

    I think Bryce will have a great career. I just hope he stays healthy enough to realize his potential.

    • Nats Amore - Jul 12, 2014 at 1:02 PM

      The fact that most of the players you name played decades ago reflects another important factor. These days most young players either spend some significant time in college and/or in the minors, certainly very few come to the majors at 19. Therefore the sample size of contemporary players to compare Harper with is considerably smaller than in those days. I don’t mean to spark another debate here, but even Trout spent a few years in the minors and it seems to have served him well, and I sometimes wonder if a little more time in the minors would have been good for Harper.

      • David Proctor - Jul 12, 2014 at 1:04 PM

        I don’t think so. When healthy, Harper has shown that he can play at a high level in the majors. There’s no need for him to sit in the minors if that’s the case. Would keeping him in the minors keep him healthy? Or would he still be getting hurt but without the benefit we’ve seen to the big club?

      • sjm308 - Jul 12, 2014 at 1:12 PM

        It certainly is a good debate although you can’t go back.

        Trout not only spent time in the minors, he was sent back to the minors in his first season when things went south.
        Trout is right now the best player in baseball in my opinion. I don’t think it is fair to compare anyone to Trout, but it does seem that his time learning his craft might have been enhanced by what was done in the minor leagues.

        I am sticking with the hope that Harper will come out of this and play a huge role for us in the 2nd half.

        Go Nats!!

      • Drew - Jul 12, 2014 at 1:17 PM

        It’s an interesting point. Any good chef knows the importance of Trout seasoning.

        Mike Trout played 286 games in the minors. Harper played 139, a figure padded a bit by his rehab assignments.

        While Trout has been the more valuable player to date, let’s see how this plays out over 20 years.

        It’s important to remember that Trout is 14 months older than Harper, an important gap at this early stage in their careers.

      • Hiram Hover - Jul 12, 2014 at 2:16 PM

        I look at his time lost to injuries in a different way. Rather than conclude that he’s particularly injury prone–too early for that, imo–I think of all the on-the-job training he’s lost.

        He’s been in the majors a bit more than 2 seasons and clearly shown he belongs there. He’s spent more than a half a season’s worth of games on the DL during that time. Forget more time in the minors–think about how valuable that MLB experience would have been to him.

        The good news is that he’s still very, very young. He will get that experience, and at a younger age than most players.

        I don’t like this slump/readjustment period/whatever-we’re-calling it, but it does not worry me about his long term prospects.

    • scmargenau - Jul 12, 2014 at 1:04 PM

      I hope you are right, but how long before we have to call him a bust if the “slump” becomes the norm. He doesn’t seem to have calmness of a trout, Rendon or even MM. He rarely hits well in clutch situations. Even during ROY year. I think we will know one way or the other by the end of next season what kind of player he will be.

      • David Proctor - Jul 12, 2014 at 1:10 PM

        You’re going to judge the entire career of a guy when he’s 22 years old (next year)? Next year, Harper will still be younger than Rendon is right now.

        By the way, Harper has an .806 career OPS with RISP. Rendon has a .769 OPS with RISP. In “high leverage” situations, Harper has a .803 OPS. Rendon has a .599 OPS (!!!). “Medium leverage” Rendon is slightly better (.872 vs .835).

        I know you’ll now call me a shill, despite me showing you FACTS, so I don’t know why I bother.

      • sjm308 - Jul 12, 2014 at 1:17 PM

        David – I love that you can produce stats in just a moments notice.
        scm wrote his comment at 1:04 and by 1:10 you had stats on both Harper and Rendon for 3 different situations.
        Very impressed and one of the great benefits of this blog is that people will just make random statements and then others will come back with actual numbers.

        Now, don’t get me wrong. scm has every right to think that Harper does not hit well in clutch situations. He has every right to voice that opinion and on here and replies to that opinion are usually handled very well with little anger. Its what makes this game so great. One person can see Harper as a failure while another can see him as a potential star.

        Go Baseball!

      • scmargenau - Jul 12, 2014 at 3:00 PM

        DP – as usual amazing stats. I just don’t buy it…I’ve watched every game, every inning. I believe what I see. I think (as I’ve told u before) that his stats are too small a size and mostly accumulated when he was the shiny new toy.

        Ok, so we’ve waited what 6 years on espi? We know he’s never going to be good. So my question is how long do we give him if he doesn’t produce numbers as he did first year? He should be getting better, but he seems to regress.

        You really should read what others writers and analyst say….u love research, check it out. Not everyone thinks he’s going to be great… And players who have attitudes and act like he does tend to bust.

        Rg3 was great year one. Then the league adjusted. We will know this year or next if he will be a franchise qB – so all I’m saying is I think by end of 2015 season we will have a pretty good idea of what he will become.

        I never think u r a schill, I enjoy all your posts, even when we disagree :-)

      • scmargenau - Jul 12, 2014 at 3:03 PM

        And how do u explain the stunningly low RBIs? That’s why stats don’t always work.

        From post blog:
        Harper now has 115 at bats with 1 HR and 10 RBI. That projects to about 5 HR and 50 RBI for a full season. That’s pitiful. How much longer will it take for him to regain his timing? Or is this what we should expect for ….

        Throw out year one and give me your stats. Year one doesn’t count

      • Hiram Hover - Jul 12, 2014 at 3:12 PM

        As has been pointed out many, many times, Bryce’s stats for 2013 were better than for 2012:

        2012: .270/.340/.477 – OPS+ = 118
        2013: .274/.368/.486 – OPS+ = 134

        Not that I expect the umpteenth repetition to actually get through, but what the heck.

      • scmargenau - Jul 12, 2014 at 3:45 PM

        Stop with the stats. Do u really think he played well last year? And this year obviously not. His babip is barely over 300 which according to your precious fan graphs is a below average score, and will lead to lower Ba over time.

        His stats look solid 2012-2013 – I’ll concede that. But there are deeper stats I’ve read that are a cause for concern. (Couldn’t find them) it was part of the why Bryce. Is overrated articles a while back.

        Too me, and others the human eye tests shows me he isn’t playing well. Also Risp data doesn’t consider men on first. His ops his good but it seems. To occur low leverage.

        Anyways horse is beat and dead.i respect your opinions…my gut/eyes simply don’t agree. And that’s ok.

        So keep the rude replies tamed back a bit.your (hh) last comment was uncalled for.

      • Hiram Hover - Jul 12, 2014 at 4:03 PM

        Throw out year one and give me your stats. Year one doesn’t count.

        Stop with the stats.

        All right then….

    • sjm308 - Jul 12, 2014 at 1:08 PM

      Drew – agree about Bryce’s health
      I saw Mantle at 21 and continued to marvel at him, even while he played injured most of his career. In my youth, with a really really bad team every year here, I did pick the Yankee’s as the team I would pester my mom to take me to games and each one was a treat. Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto, Gil McDonald, Hank Bauer, Billy Martin and on and on. My Yogi Berra foul ball has long been lost but its still a great memory.

      If our Mick were our GM, Harper would either be A. on the bench, B. back in the minors or C. part of trade for god knows what?

      Luckily, we have actual professionals who watch and evaluate talent, and while Harper might not resign when its time, I can pretty much guarantee that we will enjoy him for years to come. At least that is my hope.

      Go Nats!!! Heal fast JZiimmnn

  3. Drew - Jul 12, 2014 at 12:47 PM

    Of course, we can’t forget the historically great lefty who came to the Show at 19.

    At 21 he won 23 ballgames and led the American League with 9 shutouts and a 1.75 ERA.

    Some kid named Ruth.

  4. NatsLady - Jul 12, 2014 at 1:55 PM

    Henderson Alvarez (Marlins) will take J Zimm’s place in the All-Star Game. I wonder if our pitchers were invited and declined out of solidarity with Soriano. I believe the CBA requires players to be in the game if they are not injured, but I’m not sure about substitutions.

    Anyway, I only cared about JZ’s inning and the result (do we get home field?), so I’ll just watch the Futures Game and maybe the Home Run Derby.

    • Candide - Jul 12, 2014 at 3:05 PM

      Just saw this:

      Capital Sports Fcst ‏@NatsWx 31m
      I will be joining Ryan Zimmerman in boycotting the ASG. Not worth my time. I’ll watch the Home Run Derby and the Futures game, but not ASG.

      Can’t find confirmation at this point.

  5. NatsLady - Jul 12, 2014 at 2:35 PM

    Hearing what happened with Jean Segura (death of his 9-month-old son) makes me hope our boys all just go home and hug their kids. And if they don’t have kids, hug their brothers and sisters.

  6. unkyd59 - Jul 12, 2014 at 3:03 PM

    Meanwhile, down on the farm:

    Prospect Voth throws seven scoreless for Potomac
    Sent with At Bat

  7. scmargenau - Jul 12, 2014 at 3:10 PM

    Who get called up when rosters expand? If Walters isn’t good enough for in field, with his pop could we see a line up with him, Bryce , Werth? And what about Taylor? We def need a better obp for lead off then span.





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