In his first at-bat Friday night, having fallen behind in the count, Bryce Harper resorted to a tactic he has frequently uses as he searches for his swing: He bunted. The ball trickled foul, and eventually Harper whacked a two-strike single to right field.
Both moments – the failed bunt and the line-drive hit – underscored Manger Matt Williams’s message to Harper afterward. Williams wants Harper to bunt less and swing away in almost all circumstances. Depending on the situation, and even how Harper’s surgically repaired thumb is feeling, Williams could understand a bunt from Harper. Mostly, he wants Harper to hack.
“More often than not, I would like to see him swing the bat,” Williams said. “He just has the opportunity to do something special. If he feels like the guy is playing him back far enough that he can do that, and get on base in the right situation, okay. Then again, there’s times where I want him to swing, too. The last couple of times he’s tried to do it, we’d rather see him let it fly and see what he can do. Hit a leadoff double or hit one over the fence. He certainly has that capability. We talked about it.”
In his career, Harper has not experienced much success when he bunts. He’s 2 for 6 this year and 4 for 17 in his caree when he attempts a bunt hit and puts it in play, per FanGraphs.com. That doesn’t account for wasted strikes when he pushes a bunt foul. Harper, despite recent struggles, is an excellent hitter. But he’s not much of a bunter.
As for when he swings, Harper is 20 for 86 (.232) with five extra-base hits since he returned from the disabled list. He has been toggling between his traditional stance and a more relaxed version in which he starts standing taller. Williams believes Harper is close to finding his stroke.
“He’s been searching a little bit,” Williams said. “He’s been trying to find that timing, that rhythm. He experiments with his stance from time to time. I thought last night’s at-bat against [Jonathan] Papelbon was a pretty good one, though. He was on everything. That last split was pretty good. But he battled that at-bat. He took some close pitches, which tells me he’s seeing it. He fouled some balls off, which tells me hos timing is pretty good. That experimenting happens from time to time with everyone. He’ll be okay.”