Bryce Harper hoping for a breakout after DL return

Bryce Harper has struggled since coming off the DL. (Alex Brandon/Associated Press)

Since he returned to the Nationals lineup, Bryce Harper hasn’t quite looked like himself. He entered Thursday’s game just 4 for 28 with  one extra-base hit, four walks and 11 strikeouts. Nationals Manager Matt Williams has noticed Harper has been a little jumpy at the plate and his timing off by a tad. After missing two months with the an injured left thumb, Harper knew it would take time.

“I feel good,” Harper said. “The past couple days it’s been a lot better. Of course, the numbers might not show that. But mentally and physically, I feel great. I think it just takes a little bit of time to get back into the swing of things and get back into that routine of playing every single day and really sticking with my routine of how I go about it. We’re winning ballgames. That’s the most important thing.”

Harper has looked better in recent games. In his third and fourth at-bats Wednesday, Harper made solid contact with pitches but narrowly missed both, settling for a flyout and lineout to right field.

“He’s close,” Williams said. “He popped that ball up [Wednesday] night. He was right on that one. He’s right on the other pitches, too. His second at-bat last night was a first-pitch change-up. His path was good. His timing was good. It was just a change-up. It’s coming. I know he doesn’t want to hear that but he really is coming.”

The biggest clue to Harper’s improvement has been his batting practice. When he hits the ball to right field, the path of the ball is straight, no longer twisting towards the foul pole.

“That’s the key,” Williams said. “It’s not hooking. He’s not hitting top-spin liners. He’s driving the ball with backspin.”

Harper, too, believes he could be close to a breakout and all that will help him improve is more at-bats. He said these past eight games back have felt almost like spring training.

“Just trying to get back into it and staying with my routine and with what I know how to do at the plate,” he said. “I don’t want to change because I feel good. It just takes time to get the eyes back to seeing the baseball and seeing offspeed pitches and recognizing pitches. I’ve look dumb on some, I’ve looked good on some. It’s just part of the process. I think I’m pretty close. I feel pretty good. I hope it gets going.”

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