Bryce Harper entered Saturday night's game with the Atlanta Braves 3 for 17 (.176 AVG) with eight Ks in his first 18 plate appearances in 2014. With runners in scoring position he was 1 for 7 and the frustration level was pretty clearly going up for the Washington Nationals' 2010 no.1 overall pick in spite of the fact that it was still the first week of the season.
First-year skipper Matt Williams, a veteran of 17 major league seasons, told reporters before the Nats' 6-2 loss that he understood the frustration, but early numbers needed to be put in perspective.
"You look at Bryce and you say, well he's 21 years old and he's had success in the big leagues, all the pressure that comes along with being Bryce," Williams said. "And when it doesn't start off well then it just adds. But, as he goes through his career and over time, you learn that, really your first 100 at bats it's a little give and take. You can start off hot in your first hundred and then it can go south. Or it can start off not-so-hot and it can be really good at the end of the day. So, yeah, batting average can move two hundred points with two or three hits this time of year, so we're just trying to give him opportunities and we'll continue to do that and it will come around. I'm sure of it."
Williams was moving Harper around in the order too, hitting him fifth and sixth where he thought the slugger would get RBI opportunities and second where he has made most of his plate appearances so far in his career.
"I'm trying to find him a good comfort spot until he feels it," Williams explained, "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."
Julio Teheran, against whom Harper was 5 for 10 with two doubles and two home runs early in their respective careers, seemed like as good a pitcher as any for him to get going against, but at the end of an 0 for 4, 2 K night in the second-straight loss to Atlanta, the frustration boiled over to the point where Harper was throwing things around in the tunnel leading to the Nationals' clubhouse after striking out for the second time in an eighth inning at bat against Braves' reliever Ian Thomas.
Williams couldn't help but notice the outburst which took place directly behind him in the dugout and he addressed it after the game when a reporter asked about Harper's early-season frustration level.
"It's one of the topics of conversation tonight," Williams said after he was asked if Harper might need a day off to relax. "When that frustration rears its head, it's often times good to give a day. So we'll take a serious look at that tonight with the off day coming after that."
Harper's frustration, in that particular instance, he explained, had more to do with his approach in the at bat.
"Everybody wants to compete whether it's game one or game one-sixty-two or beyond," he said. "So, Bryce's frustration in the last at bat tonight was he swung at a bad ball. And so, at some point there's that tipping point where frustration shows itself. It's often times good to let it out too. You can go out there and act like it's not bothering you, but it bothers everybody. So, sometimes it's good to let it out. So we'll evaluate that tonight and talk about it and see what we can do tomorrow."
What Williams and his staff decided to do, was give Harper a rest.
• Here's the lineup for the series finale with Atlanta: