PHILADELPHIA, PA - AUGUST 24: Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals looks back after striking out in the eighth inning of the game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on August 24, 2012 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Phillies won 4-2. (Photo by Brian Garfinkel/Getty Images)
After Bryce Harper went 0 for 4 with four Ks in Monday's 4-1 win over Atlanta in Nationals Park, dropping his line on the year to .247/.322/.412, Washington's skipper Davey Johnson was asked if it was the sort of night that would lead to the manager to pull Harper aside and address the fact that the 19-year-old 2010 no.1 overall pick was pressing and trying too hard to make something happen? "Uh, no," Johnson responded, "That's part of getting your feet on the ground up here, and he'll be in there tomorrow." Harper was in the lineup the next day, and he went 1 for 4 with the Nats' only run scored in a 5-1 loss to the Braves.
Bryce Harper's second-half numbers (.196/.271/.324, 3 2B, 2 3B, 4 HR) after a (.282/.354/.472, 15 2B, 4 3B, 8 HR) first-half, have people like the SB Nation's Rob Neyer and NatsInsider.com's Mark Zuckerman wondering if the Nationals should sit the rookie outfielder and give the likes of Tyler Moore and Roger Bernadina more time in the outfield? Davey Johnson was asked about his approach with Harper several times this past week and each time he had a similar response, he's going to keep running the kid out there and allow him to work things out. Harper started his major league career mashing left-handed pitchers as the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore pointed out in June after the phenom's first month-plus in the majors.
After striking out swinging against the one left-hander he faced last night, Antonio Bastardo, Harper has a .221/.287/.376 line against lefties with 43 Ks in 166 PAs. Davey Johnson was asked last week if there was anything he could do to help Harper against left-handers, or any advice he could give? "I think the first month he was here he was hitting like .400 off them," the Nationals' manager said, "He's getting a little anxious. He's pushing himself to do great things like all young players, not staying within himself. Trying to crush the ball. You do that, you go from being a good hitter to then being a little more of a swinger. He's going through that. [Ian Desmond], [Danny] Espinosa, they've all gone through that and they still have lapses back in it, but it's just pushing themselves and wanting to do something great, so they're all in."
How to get them through it? "Just keep running him out there," Johnson said. And he has in all three player's cases, as Desmond worked through his issues at the plate over the last two seasons and as Espinosa has this year in his own second full season in the majors. In the month of August, Harper now has a .218/.276/.385 line. He went through a brutal stretch on the Nats' last road trip, collecting just three hits in nine games and 32 ABs as the Nationals traveled to Houston, Arizona and San Francisco.
During the last homestand, against the New York Mets and Atlanta Braves, when everyone was asking Davey Johnson these questions, Harper was 6 for 21 (.286/.318/.667) with a triple, two home runs, one walk and seven Ks. Asked for his diagnosis of the rookie's issues this past Wednesday after a loss in the series finale with Atlanta, Johnson said Harper was simply, "Overly aggressive. Trying to put a big charge in it. He wasn't quite that aggressive early, and now that he's gone through a little slump... but he'll make adjustments, he'll get through it."
Harper was 2 for 4 with two doubles last night in a game in which the Nats had six hits total, one by Edwin Jackson and one a pinch hit HR by Tyler Moore.