July has been the toughest month for Bryce Harper so far. He’s in the longest slump — and that’s in relative terms — of his young major league career. With his 0 for 4 game on Tuesday, the Nationals 19-year-old rookie drifted deeper into his mini-struggle at the plate. Since returning from the all-star break on July 13, Harper is hitting .171 (12 for 70) in 18 games. In that span, he has managed only thee extra-base hits. Hit batting average has dropped to .258, the lowest since May 21.
“I’m all over the place right now,” Harper said. “So I’m trying to find some mellowness at the plate and in the box. Just trying to work at it everyday and try to take something good from every at-bat and take something good from every game.”
In each month since his debut, Harper’s slugging has slowly trended downward. May was his best month, in which he smacked 13 extra-base hits, including four home runs. In June, he had 10 extra-base hits with four home runs. But in July, he had only six extra-base hits and one home run, on July 23. He has nearly played every day, save for a bruise or stomach virus.
Harper’s triple slash line — .258/.334/.425 — is still impressive for a rookie, let alone a 19-year-old. He has been forced to adjust to pitchers, who have developed a book on how to pitch him. His weakness: crafty left-handers such as Cliff Lee. He has had to calm himself down at the plate after periods of antsiness. One of his most impressive qualities has been the ability to quickly diagnose a situation and adapt his swing and himself accordingly. And now those abilities are being tested.
Even in this recent skid, he has still found ways to fight through and impact the game, such as a game-tying triple in the 10th inning against the New York Mets on July 17 or an RBI single in the 10th inning also against the Mets on July 23.
Asked about Harper’s recent approach at the plate, Manager Davey Johnson said nothing was awry.
“He’s the same,” he said. “[Lee is] a pretty tough pitcher. I thought [Harper] was in a pretty good mood today. Had a pretty good BP. Faced a tough pitcher. He’ll be in there tomorrow.”
Harper has gone through a few streaks already this season. His first noticeable slump was a stretch from May 9 to May 17, when he hit .167 and struck out 10 times while drawing only three walks. He then smashed out of it in a big way, hitting .360 with a 1.065 OPS over his next 23 games.
“I don’t think I’m trying to do too much at all,” Harper said. “I’m trying to keep my strikeouts down and my walks up. That’s the biggest thing. Trying to square some stuff up and try to have good [at-bats] and try to battle.”
And slowly but surely, that may be the cure: continue working and swinging. It is his first season in the majors after all, lest we forget.
FROM TODAY’S POST
Nationals fall to the Phillies, 8-0, as their rival in a new role of spoiler, Adam Kilgore writes.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Lehigh Valley 8, Syracuse 6: Center fielder Eury Perez went 2 for 3 and stole three bases. He is hitting .413 (19 for 46) in 12 games for Syracuse.
Binghamton 3, Harrisburg 2: Shortstop Zach Walters and first baseman Tim Pahuta each notched two hits. Starter Daniel Rosenbaum allowed three runs, two earned, over six innings.
Salem 5, Potomac 4: Second baseman Rick Hague went 3 for 5 with two RBI, while designated hitter Steven Souza, Jr. also added three hits.
West Virginia 4, Hagerstown 2: Right fielder Justin Miller and catcher Cole Leonida each notched two hits. Designated hitter Carlos Alvarez notched his first two for Hagerstown.