Bryce Harper has had a horrific start to his 2014 season. Prior to Tuesday’s game against Miami, the Nationals star outfielder recorded only three hits in 21 at-bats. He was held out of this past Sunday’s series finale against the Braves, a day after slamming his helmet and bat against the wall in the Nationals’ dugout. He’s even admitted to being “pretty lost right now” at the plate. Nationals manager Matt Williams said: “It’s frustrating when you’re getting pitches to hit and you’re not squaring them up the way you want to square them up. It happens, but he’s grinding.” Though it’s concerning that the best young star on the Nationals roster is off to a sluggish start, here’s why it’s not something to worry about.
1. Nats Don’t Go as Harper Goes
In one of Harper’s worst slumps in 2013, he hit .118 from Aug. 10-15 against the Phillies (two games) and the Giants (three games). But the Nationals went 4-1 in that span. Despite Harper’s struggles this season, Washington was 4-2 prior to Tuesday night’s contest in Miami, and the Nationals’ only win over the Braves last weekend came when Harper wasn’t in the lineup. Harper’s not the lone component driving this team.
2. He Can Break Out of Slumps
That mid-August slump last season ended with Harper hitting .438 with an OPS of 1.196 over the next five games against Atlanta (three games) and Chicago (two games) from Aug. 16-20. Last April, he had four hits in a game after going hitless the previous three. He’s too good of a hitter to stay down for long. “Bryce’s timing is a tick off right now,” Williams said. “I think his swing is coming. At any point during the course of a season, Bryce can get hot.”
3. Nothing Wrong With His Swing
Williams isn’t too worried about the mechanics of Harper’s swing. Overall, the young slugger doesn’t need to make many changes. The Nationals manager sees Harper’s problem as a matter of not connecting on pitches he normally puts in play. “He’s getting those pitches to hit and not quite squaring them up,” Williams said. “He’s fouling them off. That will come. Sometimes you search for it and it takes just one at-bat to get going.”
4. Everyone Else Is Getting the Job Done
The Nationals are getting quality production at the plate from other players, including Anthony Rendon (.391), Jayson Werth (.381) and Ryan Zimmerman (.350). Ian Desmond and Adam LaRoche are also batting .250 each. Though limiting his at-bats might not be the most constructive thing for a hitter as gifted as Harper, batting him sixth in the lineup could be a good idea for the short term if he continues to struggle.