While the Nationals evaluated the extent of Ryan Zimmerman’s sore shoulder, Manager Matt Williams also has another matter to deal with: Bryce Harper’s early struggles and visible frustration. Harper went 0 for 4 on Saturday in a 6-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves. Although the sample is small, Harper is 3 for 21 with 10 strikeouts and no extra-base hits through five games. The 21-year-old looks uncomfortable at the plate, and Williams has said the outfielder’s timing is off.
“I feel terrible,” Harper said after the loss. “Plain and simple.”
Following Saturday’s game, Williams said he considering resting Harper on Sunday. The Nationals are facing Braves left-handed starter Alex Wood. In the past two games, Harper has slammed his helmet down and knocked some things over after strikeouts. “When that frustration rears its head, oftentimes it’s good to give a day,” Williams said.
Harper, however, wants to play.
“I just wanna swing,” he said. “I just want to go out there and get good ABs in me.”
Harper has been hitting in different spots of the lineup since the start of the season, from second to fifth and sixth. On Saturday, Harper hit second against Braves right-handed starter Julio Teheran, whom he has hit well, and Williams felt Harper could be jump-started by that. Harper went 0 for 3 against Teheran. In his final at-bat against Teheran in the fifth, Harper drilled a ball to center field, his best contact in recent games, but it was caught for an out.
“The swing doesn’t feel good,” he said. “That’s all I can say. Try to go in every day and do some drills that work and feel good in the cage, feel good in BP. I haven’t had my BPs where I hit the ball out of the yard to left or right. It’s been pretty [bad] actually.”
After Harper spoke with reporters and changed from his uniform to workout clothes, he grabbed a bat and headed toward the batting cages. To snap out of his funk, Harper said he would pull up video of his swing to see his hand placement. He also said he would call his father, Ron, his unofficial hitting coach growing up.
“I’m pretty lost right now actually,” he said. “I’m trying to see where my swing is at.”
In his final at-bat of the game, Harper struck out, swinging at a high fastball from Braves left-handed reliever Ian Thomas. Before Saturday’s game, Williams said he believed Harper would break out soon because he wasn’t swing at bad pitches. But Harper unraveled. As he walked down the dugout steps and into the tunnel that leads to the clubhouse, television footage showed Harper knocking things over. In Friday’s game, Harper slammed his helmet down on the dirt after a strikeout.
Asked about his outward displays of frustration, Harper said: “I show emotion all the time.”
“Some of that motivates Bryce,” first baseman Adam LaRoche said. “When he goes through that, he does wear it on his sleeve. A lot of times that’s his way of getting it off his chest and being done with it. Instead of keeping his frustration, he chooses to air it out once in a while and be done with it. Again, he’s young. He’ll learn those 0 for 4s can turn into a lot worse if you carry them into the next day. He’ll be fine. We’ve all talked to him. Again, it’s kinda part of the growing pains of figuring that part out on his own.”