Heading into tonight's game against Atlanta and 23-year-old starter Julio Teheran in Nationals Park, 21-year-old Washington Nationals' slugger Bryce Harper is 5 for 10 with two doubles, two home runs and one fairly memorable hit by pitch so far in his career against the Braves' right-hander.
Nats' skipper Matt Williams said this afternoon that Harper's success in an admittedly small sample of at bats against Teheran was in part behind his decision to slot the Nationals' 2010 no.1 overall pick in the two-spot in the second game of three with the defending NL East champs.
The Nationals' first-year manager is hoping that facing a pitcher he's hit well before might get Harper going after a 3 for 17, eight K start to the 2014 season. Williams said today he's confident things will come together for Harper at the plate, and he understands the frustration of not being where you want to be.
"Everybody gets frustrated," Williams said. "But there is also the ability within Bryce to go a month where they can't get him out either. And he knows that. I think everybody that watches the game knows that. We certainly do, and so, yeah, that frustration creeps in. He plays with a lot of emotion. That's a good thing."
"Right now, like we talked about yesterday, he's a tick off with his timing. He's missing some balls that he ordinarily hits. And that happens. So, it often takes one swing to get it all back. He's eager to play every day. Wants to play every day and certainly wants to get going, and just like everybody wants him to get going and it will happen. Hopefully it's tonight."
"He's had good success against Teheran," Williams continued, "so hopefully it's tonight."
Having gone through similar struggles in his own 17-year major league career, Williams said he's well aware of what Harper's dealing with right now.
"There's often times when you walk up there and you feel like you're 0-2 before you even step in the box," he said. "I don't think it's that right now for him. I think it's just a question of him being a little off timing and not hitting the pitch that he ordinarily hits. Cause he's got a lot of those and he's fouling him back. So what do you do in the regard?
"Well, you just keep putting him in there because eventually he's going to turn and when it does, it's special, so you just keep trying to get him opportunities."
Putting Harper in the two-hole, Williams said, where Harper's taken the majority of his major league at bats, will hopefully make him comfortable and get him on track.
"It put him in a position tonight where, again, his success against [Teheran] is evident," Williams explained. "And so he's swung the bat well against him and so you put him back up there where he feels good about tonight going in and facing this pitcher and the success he's had."
"I'm trying to find him a good comfort spot until he feels it, until he gets out and starts [getting] back to feeling good about his swing. I think he's close there. I think he's close."
The initial plan, as Williams explained it, was to hit Harper lower (5th/6th) in the order to get him RBI opportunities, and through four games, he has been up with runners on.
"We've tried to put him in spots where he can do damage for us," Williams said. "So he's had seven at bats with runners in scoring position so far in four games. That's good. So, I look at it that we put him in those positions where we think that he's going to have opportunities to do damage with guys out there in scoring position."
Harper, however, is 1 for 7 with 4 Ks in those opportunities.
"In June if he's 1 for 7, it's not a big deal," Williams said. "But everybody talks about it now because it's the beginning of the season. But those opportunities are going to continue to be there for him. That has been our plan all along in putting him in that spot. Whether it's depending on the day or the matchups, depending on whether it's five, six, or two, those opportunities will be there, so we want to give him as many as we can, because over the course of the season, it's going to be special I think."