After a .239/.340/.391 spring, Bryce Harper went 2 for 13 with six Ks in the first three games of the regular season in Citi Field in New York.
In the home opener on Friday, the Washington Nationals' 21-year-old, 2010 no.1 overall pick was 1 for 4 with two Ks and he was caught stealing on a pitch out by Atlanta starter David Hale and Braves' catcher Evan Gattis after his only hit of the game.
Adding to his frustration, his two strikeouts in the home opener came with runners on in the fourth and eighth innings.
When Harper K'd swinging with a runner on third and two out in the fourth, he slammed his helmet to the ground in frustration.
"It gets frustrating," Nats' skipper Matt Williams told reporters after the game. "It's frustrating when you're getting pitches to hit and you're not squaring them up the way you want to square them up. It happens. But he's grinding."
Asked if the third-year major leaguer was "pressing," Williams said he was... every time he went to the plate.
"Press every day," Williams responded. "That's a good word for somebody that's not swinging the bat as well as you would like them to or they want to. That word is used a lot, but there's pressing every day. Every time you walk up there you want to get a base hit, so that in and of itself takes care of that."
Harper, Williams explained, "...just feels... just off a little bit. He's getting those pitches to hit and not-quite squaring them up. Fouling them off. So, that will come."
"Sometimes you search and search and search for it and it just takes one at bat to get going. His first at bat was good, he stayed on the baseball, hit the ball to left-center field today, but there were a couple that he missed as well. Just a tick off."
Williams talked about his left fielder being a "tick off" before Friday's game too.
"Bryce's timing is a tick off right now," he explained. "So we put him in the two-hole yesterday and I think his swing is coming. He hit a couple of balls hard his last couple of times up yesterday. Again, at any point during the course of a season, Bryce can get hot. And so, today's opportunity for him, we hope, is multiple men in scoring position. And he's had an opportunity whether it's five or six. There's a lot that goes into it that I'm not at liberty to share at this point, but he's fine. He'll be fine and he'll drive in the big runs for us."
The Nationals ran themselves out of an RBI opportunity for Harper before he struck out in the fourth when Adam LaRoche was thrown out at home trying to score from first on a Ryan Zimmerman double. Instead of second and third with one out, it was a runner on third with two down when Harper K'd to strand Zimmerman at third.
Williams talked this week about hitting Harper hitting fifth and sixth to take some pressure off him and "open up his game" so he can use all five tools to help beat opposing teams. He's also been back in the two-hole once in the first four games, where he has made the majority of his plate appearances early in his career. The shuffling around in the order isn't in reaction to anything Harper is or isn't doing, however, as Williams explained.
"It doesn't mean anything that Bryce hits sixth," he said.
"It doesn't mean that he's not a fantastic player. It means the same thing when he was hitting second yesterday. So, it's just a question of how we want to attack today's game."