The Washington Nationals' 21-year-old outfielder was aggressive at the plate in the series opener with the Nats' NL East rivals.
Harper was first-pitch swinging, and he grounded out in his first at bat of the night, failing to bring Adam LaRoche in from third when he rolled one out to second. He grounded weakly to first on the first pitch he saw the second time up.
The third-year major leaguer hit a line drive home run to right on a 90 mph 1-0 fastball in the first at bat of the seventh, leaving him 1 for 3 on the night, then popped out to the catcher on the first pitch he saw from Philly reliever Ken Giles in the top of the eighth, stranding runners on second and third and ending the closest thing to a rally the Nationals mounted on a night when the offense was effectively held in check by Philadelphia's pitching.
Nats' skipper Matt Williams talked Thursday night, after Harper went 0 for 3 in the second game of a two-game set with the Baltimore Orioles in Camden Yards, about seeing signs that the struggling slugger was turning things around at the plate.
Harper K'd swinging twice in his first two at bats against O's lefty Wei-Yin Chen, lined out to left the third time out and was walked intentionally in his final plate appearance of the game.
Orioles' skipper Buck Showalter spoke to reporters about having reliever Darren O'Day walk the slumping Nats' outfielder in order to set up a two on, two out matchup between the right-handed pitcher and Nationals' infielder Ian Desmond, who was hit by a pitch, loading the bases for catcher Wilson Ramos, whose fly to center stranded three runners in what was then and ended up a 4-3 game in Baltimore's favor.
It was the second time in three games between the two teams this week that the Orioles made the decision to walk Harper to get to Ian Desmond.
"There [are] a lot of variables that go into it," Showalter explained. "I think we did it over there. Just, guys like [Harper] and a lot of guys you know they're due, it's just a matter of time and you just create best matchup you can..."
The decisions worked for the Orioles in each instance.
The intentional walk in Thursday night's game left Harper 0 for 3 on the night and 0 for 13 since he'd singled off Cubs' reliever Chris Rusin last Saturday. Still, Williams liked what he saw from Harper in OPACY.
The lineout to left field, in particular, Williams saw as a good sign.
"Staying on a baseball," Williams said of the opposite field liner. "The one he struck out on the at bat before is a really tough pitch, a pitcher's pitch, but him going the other way is a really good sign."
Though he was hitless in his first two at bats against the Phillies on Friday and only saw five pitches total, Williams was happy to see Harper hit what was his first home run since April 9th.
"He was real aggressive tonight," Williams told reporters. "Hit the first-pitch curve ball the first time up. Wants to swing, certainly, and really aggressive tonight. But he got the head out on that fastball. Hopefully it's a sign of good things to come for him."
The aggressive approach wasn't necessarily a bad thing in Williams' opinion, as long as Harper was being selective.
"It depends on the quality of pitches that he's swinging at," the former major league slugger explained. "He came up in his first at bat with a guy on third base and less than two and swung at a curveball. It was a strike, but he was out in front of it and not necessarily the swing he wants to take.
"On the other side of that coin, he gets the fastball to hit and hits it over the fence. So it's a double-edged sword sometimes. He wants to be aggressive. We certainly want him to be aggressive in the strike zone and if he's swinging at strikes then it's okay. If he's swinging early and swinging at bad balls, then it's a level of concern."
The 1 for 4 night at the plate left Harper with a .143/.250/.257 line, a double, a home run, five walks and 13 Ks in 10 games and 41 plate appearances since he returned from a 57-game stint on the DL after he tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his left thumb sliding into third base on a base-clearing triple in an April 25th game against the San Diego Padres in the nation's capital.
On the year, in his third major league season, Harper has a .246/.321/.373 line with five doubles, two triples, two home runs, 13 walks and 34 Ks in 132 PAs.
Tonight in Philadelphia, he's facing lefty Cole Hamels, against whom he's 8 for 25 with a double, two walks and four Ks in 28 PAs in their respective careers.
Harper has, however, somewhat oddly considering he struggled to hit southpaws last season, put up a .361/.395/.583 line in an admittedly small sample size of 38 PAs against left-handed pitchers so far this season.
When he struggled to hit lefties in 2013, putting up a .214/.327/.321 line against LHPs in 76 games and 158 PAs, now-former Nats' skipper Davey Johnson said he would eventually figure left-handers out.
"I was telling him," Johnson said, "'You're going to really hit left-handers good, when you realize any left-hander, all left-handed pitchers are just dumb. You'll hit them real good when you realize that.'"
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