After he popped out to first base on a hanging change-up to end the third inning of Wednesday’s 5-1 loss to the Atlanta Braves, Bryce Harper took off his helmet, slipped out of his batting gloves and tossed his bat to the side as he walked up the first base line. He was dejected and his body language showed it. He finished 1 for 4 and scored a run with aggressive base running.
But, even then, his swings at the plate revealed a struggling hitter. He jumped at offspeed pitches and, though he connected on some of them, he essentially missed them. In his first at-bat, he missed a change-up and grounded out on another. In his third at-bat, he swung hard through a change-up and curveball away and missed both, striking out on the final one.
“Overly aggressive,” Johnson said. “Trying to put a big charge in it. … He wasn’t quite that aggressive early. Now that he’s gone through a little slump.”
As a result, Johnson admitted he has considered working players such as Steve Lombardozzi and Roger Bernadina into the lineup. Johnson called upon Lombardozzi, who was pushed to the bench when Ian Desmond returned from injury last week, to pinch hit in the seventh inning. And he notched his third pinch hit in the series, albeit on a change-up from Braves starter Kris Medlen, the pitch that had fooled many Nationals hitters in the game.
“I always think about all those things,” Johnson said. “… It’s my job to try to find ways to get these young guys that have been playing now that I’ve got a regular lineup. We’ll have to try and get ’em in. Nothing has gone in my head on how to do it yet.”
Since the all-star break in mid-July, Harper is hitting .186 with 39 strikeouts in 140 at-bats over 38 games. He smacked two home runs in last weekend’s series against the New York Mets but he’s still scuffling overall. In Monday’s game, his weakness of soft, breaking balls outside was shown again.
Harper sees far fewer pitches inside the strike zone (39 percent) than league average (45 percent), according to Pitchf/x on FanGraphs.com. He, however, swings at more pitches overall (49.9 percent vs. league average 45.8 percent) and outside the strike zone (34.5 percent vs. league average 30.5 percent).
Lombardozzi, on the other hand, is hitting .434 in 46 at-bats since Aug. 6 — and he hasn’t even started since Aug. 15. Bernadina is hitting .385 in 26 at-bats in August, despite not starting since Aug. 13.
Harper’s first season in the majors continues to be an up-and-down learning experience. Johnson understands that and, despite some bad at-bats, believes the talented youngster will eventually pull through. For now, he is sticking with him — with maybe some upcoming rest.
“He’ll make adjustments,” Johnson said. “He’ll get through it.”
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
FROM TODAY’S POST
The Nationals had a chance to sweep the Braves, but breathed a little life into them with a 5-1 loss, writes Adam Kilgore
What a difference a year makes for the Nationals, writes Thomas Boswell.
On his farewell tour, Chipper Jones plays likely his last game at Nationals Park, writes Rick Maese
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Harrisburg 2, Reading 1: Starter Trevor Holder allowed only one run over 7 2/3 innings. Justin Bloxom and Jhonatan Solano, on rehab, drove in a run each.
Potomac 9, Carolina 8: Neil Holland pitched the a scoreless final three innings and lowered ERA to 1.46 in 55 2/3 innings on the season. Matthew Skole and Stephen King each drove in two runs.
Hagerstown 5, Kannapolis 4: Caleb Ramsey went 2 for 4, including his 10th triple of the season, and three RBI. Cutter Dykstra went 2 for 4 with two RBI. With two scoreless innings of relief, Christian Meza has a 2.52 ERA in 82 innings.
State College 5, Auburn 4: Starter Nicholas Lee allowed four hits and no runs over six innings. Shawn Pleffner (Arundel High) went 2 for 6 and is hitting .329 on the season.