Bryce Harper was 0 for 9 to start the Washington Nationals' last road trip, going hitless in three games against the Philadelphia Phillies in Citizens Bank Park, but things picked up at the plate for the 21-year-old slugger when he arrived in Seattle.
In the Nats' three-game set with the Mariners, the 2010 no.1 overall pick was 6 for 11 with three home runs, going deep twice in the series finale in Safeco Field.
"I just think he's getting stronger," Nationals' manager Matt Williams told reporters after Washington dropped the series finale in spite of Harper's efforts.
"His hand is getting stronger, which allows him to stay back and calm his body down a little bit. We've seen that over the last couple of weeks. It's getting there. He swung the bat good today."
Having the left fielder continue to improve at the plate after he suffered a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his left hand in April and missed 57 games, was a big development for the Nationals as they surged toward the NL East crown.
After struggling upon initially returning the lineup, Harper was improving progressively as the season went along, with a .228/.330/.342 month of July, during which he hit three doubles and two home runs, and a .279/.339/.490 August in which he connected for seven home runs, two of them on the final day of the month.
"It's significant that he feels good," Williams said. "And it's the case with everybody, it takes some time. You miss that kind of time, it takes you time to get your rhythm and timing and strength back. You see a little bit better bat speed with not as much effort, which is good."
"I feel pretty good up there," Harper told reporters after the 3 for 4, two home run game against the Mariners.
"Just trying to put together some good ABs and get my work in every day and see how I feel every single day, come in stick with the some routine, same plan and try to execute."
Then he started doing things that no one else was doing again, like take Dodgers' lefty Clayton Kershaw deep for the only home run LA's southpaw has given up to a left-handed hitter in 130 plate appearances this season.
"It's a good swing," Williams said, underselling the blast to right-center field in Dodger Stadium. "Again, he's finding his strength in his hand, it's coming back to him. So his bat speed is much better. He doesn't have to try to generate with his lower half. All of those things that are important for a hitter. And he's got good bat speed. So he got a good pitch to hit and delivered a hit. It's good for him, it's good to see him start to come."
During the Nationals' six-game homestand against the Phillies and Braves, Harper went 4 for 21 with a double and a home run, but it was a big one even though it came in the Nats' only to Atlanta in the series finale.
The ninth inning blast Harper hit off closer Craig Kimbrel was the first Kimbrel surrendered to a left-hander in 124 PAs this season and just the second Kimbrel allowed in 59 games and 229 PAs overall this season.
Harper undersold it that time.
"It's one of those things where you're going to face him 2-2 or 2-1 and his stuff is going to be even better," Harper told reporters. "He left a curveball up and I connected and you saw what happened, but facing him 2-2 in the ninth and he's blowing 100 [mph] and his stuff is a lot more -- I'm not saying it's better, but it's pretty rough facing him, definitely."
After a 3 for 4 game last night in Miami, Harper, who'll turn 22 in a little under a month, has put up a .305/.349/.475 line in 16 games in September with 18 hits, a double and three home runs in 59 at bats.
"I just think he's strong," Williams reiterated after the Nats' 6-2 win in which two of Harper's hits came off left-handers, leaving him with a .272/.343/.446 line vs left-handers this year and a .275/.344/.428 line vs righties.
"You miss two months with a thumb injury and come back from it, regardless of how much time you spent on the disabled list, it's not like playing a consistent number of games," Williams stressed.
"So I think his thumb is better. It blows up on from time-to-time, but the strength is better, I think, and of course consistent at bats and seeing the ball every day helps.
"Tonight was a really good example of what he can do against the lefty, stayed back and drove it to left-center field."
With ten games left in the regular season and a postseason berth now guaranteed, Harper's headed back to the postseason for the second time in three major league campaigns.
As a 19-year-old in 2012, Harper was 3 for 23 with a double, triple and a home run in his first taste of October baseball.
Two years later, he's peaking at the just the right time.