Bryce Harper. (Photo by Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post)

For the second time since he returned from the disabled list nearly two months ago, Bryce Harper had a three-hit night. He had three singles on Wednesday night, none more important than his ninth-inning hit that started the Nationals’ game-winning rally.

But it wasn’t simply scoring the winning-run and the hits that encouraged both Harper and Manager Matt Williams. They were happy with the quality of Harper’s at-bats and where he hit the balls, and how it may be a sign of things to come.

Harper’s ninth-inning single was a ball just past diving second baseman Aaron Hill. He thought he had drawn a walk when ball four was just outside the strike zone — and he started to walk towards first base — but home plate umpire Bill Welke called it a strike. Harper returned, stayed focused and hit the sixth pitch, a fastball, up the middle.

“He hit the ball back through the middle [Wednesday], which is really important for him,” Williams said. “Aaron made a great diving play on him. A couple of them, actually. But if [Harper] stays through the middle like that, he’s going to get a lot of hits, and I feel if he trusts himself to do that, the home runs will come. They will come. They’ll come on hanging breaking balls and change-ups up in the zone, if he can stay middle of the diamond. And he’s working hard on that. So I’m proud of his approach.”

Harper other two hits — singles in the second and fourth innings — were towards the middle of the field. (The second-inning was scored a hit even though Hill stabbed at the ball, stopped it and couldn’t flip an accurate throw to second for a double play.) In all, Harper saw 21 pitches in his four at-bats.

“I was a little more patient [Wednesday],” he said. “I thought being able to go up there and hit some pitches that [Trevor] Cahill was throwing to me. I felt pretty good. I’ve been battling every single day. I’ve been trying to come in here and work my tail off and trying to get that feel of where I want to be. The next month and a half hopefully I can take off and help this team win some more games.”

With Wednesday’s performance, Harper is hitting .282 (31 for 110) since the all-star break. He may have only six home runs this season, but he is still getting on base a lot; a .375 on-base percentage since the all-star break. Harper has felt little by little better at the plate.

“It’s one of those things where you take off all that time and trying to find something that works,” he said. “I’ve switched so many times my stance, for my hand for my knee, so many things. To be able to go in there every single day and feel good with my swing where it’s at right now and not change anything and stay with everything I’ve been doing, it feels really good.”


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Syracuse 11, Scranton/WB 2: A.J. Cole earned his sixth win after allowing only two runs on four hits over six innings and five strikeouts. Matt Grace fired two scoreless innings. Nate Schierholtz went 3 for 5 with four RBI, including a three-run homer. Greg Dobbs hit his first homer, too.

Portland 5, Harrisburg 3: Felipe Rivero fired five scoreless innings and struck out six. Colin Bates gave up four runs. Kevin Keyes hit a two-run homer. Caleb Ramsey and Jason Martinson each added two hits.

Potomac 8, Lynchburg 1 (7): Dakota Bacus allowed one run over 6 1/3 innings. Randolph Oduber hit a two-run homer. Isaac Ballou went 2 for 4 with a three-run shot. Khayyan Norfork walked three times and scored three runs.

Potomac 3, Lynchburg 0 (7): Kylin Turnbull fired four scoreless innings and Pedro Encarnacion added three. Shawn Pleffner went 3 for 4 with two doubles.

Hagerstown 5, Greensboro 2: Nick Pivetta allowed two runs over 6 2/3 innings and struck out five. Justin Thomas and Sam Johns combined for 2 1/3 scoreless innings. Cody Dent and Rafael Bautista each had two hits.

Auburn 5, State College 4: James Bourque gave up two runs over five innings and Tyler Mapes earned the save. Brian Langlois went 3 for 5 and Matthew Page drew two walks.