Over the past three games, Bryce Harper has notched four hits, including a monstrous three-run home run that landed in the third deck of Nationals Park on Wednesday. But of all the plate appearances, coaches have pointed to Harper’s single off a left-handed reliever on Wednesday in his at-bat following the home run and a bases-loaded walk in Thursday’s win that the outfielder is snapping out of his early season funk.
Harper, who declared he was “lost” at the plate following the April 5 game, is still only hitting .219 (7 for 32) with only two walks and 13 strikeouts in eight games this season, so there is more room for improvement. But Manager Matt Williams said the opposite field hit and the walk are good signs.
“Those types of things tell me that he’s seeing the baseball better and his timing is better,” Williams said. “Once he sees it and his timing is good, he can do those types of things. He’s working hard. He always works hard. I think he’s on his way back to where he wants to be. It’s never easy, especially late in a game against a lefty. But nonetheless, his approach and working hard to stay right there.”
On Thursday, Harper drew a four-pitch walk against Marlins right-handed reliever Arquimedes Caminero in a close game. The fourth ball was just outside the strike zone. A struggling hitter would have anxiously tried to swing at pitches with the bases loaded to make an impact, but hitting coach Rick Schu was pleased with Harper’s improved patience.
“I would have swing seven times,” Schu said. “A credit to him to slow the game down. I see him slowing down, which is a good thing and his bat speed . He’s much better.
Late in spring and early this season, Harper would rest the bat on his shoulder, parallel to the ground, before he swung. On Tuesday, he was back to holding the bat high over his shoulder before swings. Schu said the difference isn’t of any significance but noted that it was an indication that Harper was trying to find a comfortable stance and “searching a little bit.” The past handful of at-bats, although a small sample, have shown Schu that Harper is in a “pretty comfortable place.”
“I’ve seen some better swings and he’s slowing down,” Schu added. “He wants to carry the team and tries to do too much. He wants to be the guy. We need him to be that guy, but we need him to be the guy when he’s staying within himself and not trying too hard. A lot of hitters do that and they start trying to add and do things and mechanically get in a bad position. And you swing at pitches and when you get your pitch you miss it. I think he’s starting to calm down a little bit. His hands are in a better spot. He’s getting cleaner to the ball..”