Harper and Span both homered today in the Nationals’ 6-4 loss to the Royals, the two primary cogs in the Nationals’ comeback from a four-run, first-inning deficit. Harper’s two-run homer in the seventh tied the score, and it came one at-bat after he fouled a ball off his left foot and crumpled to the ground.
Span’s third home run this season had come two batters earlier. He hit a first-pitch change-up one day after his mother sent him a text message admonishing him for not swinging at the first pitch more often.
“I was [ticked] off,” Span said, laughing. “I didn’t even reply back to her.”
Both Harper and Span, two left-handed hitters who in different ways have faced adversity this season, have been major factors in the Nationals’ offensive resurgence this road trip.
Harper seems to be pulling out of the relative rough patch that began when he ran into the wall in April. Over the 10-game trip to Atlanta, Chicago and Kansas City, Harper went 14 for 36 with seven walks, six doubles and a home run. Harper couldn’t point to any significant change, but he has been more selective.
“I’ve been trying to walk a little bit more and just get one base,” Harper said.
Harper extended his hitting streak to eight games this afternoon, but it almost ended after he fouled a 95-mph fastball from Ervin Santana off his left foot. When Harper first tried to stand back up, he could not support any weight on his left leg and crashed back to the ground.
Manager Davey Johnson and head athletic trainer Lee Kuntz tended to Harper.
“He was in a lot of pain,” Johnson said. “But he wanted to finish that at-bat. If anyone finished that at-bat, it’s going to still be his at-bat. So I don’t blame him for hanging in there, even if your foot’s broken.
“In that situation, that kind of game, I want to stay in and try to get to some knocks and try to win that ballgame,” Harper said.
Harper fought back from an 0-2 count and poked a single up the middle. In the next inning, he crushed a first-pitch, 93-mph fastball for an opposite field home run. Harper felt like he had seen Santana well – after his second at-bat, he screamed and slammed his bat down after just missing a pitch and popping up.
“I finally got something I could drive, and I did something with it,” Harper said.
Afterward, Harper said his foot remained sore and bruised, but he did not anticipate it would be a problem going forward.
“It hurt really bad,” Harper said. “It stills hurts. It’s still throbbing. It didn’t feel very good, but I’ll be fine tomorrow.”
Span, meanwhile, has a chance to cap a rough offensive first season in Washington with a strong finish. Span has a nine-game hitting streak, and over the Nationals’ road trip he went 16 for 45 with a double, two triples, a homer and two walks. Span credited his work, much of it with hitting coach Rick Schu, for his turnaround.
“We found a routine that has worked for me,” Span said. “Since he’s been here, we’ve been sticking with the same routine, the same drills. Once I do a drill, I’m pretty locked in.
“I’ve just been working. I’ve just been working every day, coming to the field and trying to get better. It’s a good feeling to be able to contribute towards the end of the season. We still got a ways to go. Somebody once told me it’s not how you start.”