A day before, Harper demolished a ball into a second deck in right field, the type of towering home run that, just maybe, could propel a player out of a slump. Harper jumped on a change-up from Marlins right-hander Ricky Nolaso in his first at-bat on Sunday and missed it, striking out. In his second at-bat, the Nationals 19-year-old rookie found a pitch more to his liking, a high fastball that he turned on for a single. A positive sign, yet a momentary reprieve.
In the fourth inning, with one out and a runner on base, Nolasco tossed two of Harper’s worst enemies, breaking balls away, and he missed both, striking out again. The rookie slammed his bat onto home plate, splitting it in half. Home plate umpire Fieldin Culbreth and catcher John Buck stood and watched. A shard of it fluttered near Buck. The crowd gasped. Nolasco shook his head.
With half of the bat in his hand, Harper picked up the rest on the ground and walked into the dugout. His head hung low.
In the sixth inning, Harper came up to the plate and offered an apology to Buck.
“He told me he was really sorry, it was terrible,” Buck told Marlins beat reporters. “I told him: ‘Don’t worry about it. I did the same thing, but when I was your age it was a metal bat and I was in high school.’ It’s a learning experience for him. He’s just having to do it in front of the eyes of the whole country and the world. I bet you he probably won’t do that any more.”
Harper smacked a ground ball single off a slider from Nolasco in the at-bat. His two singles on Sunday were a positive sign, only his third multi-hit game in three weeks. It was also the third straight game he notched a hit. But even then, he is hitting .198 (18 for 91) since the all-star break in mid-July.
Harper is young and just as he has adjusted to the hitting in the major leagues, so have the pitchers adjusted to him. When he was first called up in late April, the Nationals offense needed a spark and he helped provide it. Now, with the heart of the lineup producing and the offense much improved, Harper doesn’t need to worry about driving in runs or manufacturing them. He understands that he needs to get on base.
During his slump, he has still managed to do that at times but his ability to do so has been hurt by a rash of recent strikeouts. He has been jumpy and impatient, something he knows he needs to avoid. On Sunday, for one at-bat, one strikeout got the better of him. He apologized, singled, showed improvement and was off to face a new pitcher to learn from.
FROM TODAY’S POST
Stephen Strasburg returns to for with a stellar six innings, and two-run single, in a 4-1 win over the Marlins.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Richmond 6, Harrisburg 3: Brian Goodwin went 2 for 3 and raised his batting average to .239. The game was called in the sixth because of weather.
Winston-Salem 6, Potomac 4: J.P. Ramirez went 2 for 4 and Adrian Sanchez went 1 for 4, driving in two runs.
Lexington 16, Hagerstown 6: Billy Burns and Caleb Ramsey each went 3 for 5. Catcher Cole Leonida hit two doubles.
Brooklyn 8, Auburn 0: Estarlin Martinez collected another hit and is hitting .340. Brett Mooneyham lasted only 1 2/3 innings and notched his first loss. The Doubledays managed only one hit over the first three innings against rehabbing Johan Santana.