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Washington Nationals' 2015 Season in Review: Bryce Harper goes home run crazy

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There were signs from the start that it was going to be a special season for Bryce Harper, but with the six home runs he hit in a three-game stretch in early May, the Washington Nationals' 22-year-old slugger let the baseball world know it was his time...

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Over a three-game stretch in early May, then-22-year-old Washington Nationals' slugger Bryce Harper hit six home runs in 12 at bats, driving in 12 runs in three straight wins with the sixth home run a walk-off winner in Nats Park that beat the Atlanta Braves.

It was the third walk-off home run of Harper's career to that point, which put the 2010 no.1 overall pick in some pretty good company:

Oddly enough, Robinson, who managed in D.C. in 2005-2006, was in the nation's capital that afternoon, as part of the Nationals' season-long celebration of the 10th anniversary of baseball's return to Washington.

The 80-year-old, Hall of Fame slugger talked before that game about following Harper's career and watching him live up to the hype that preceded his selection as the top pick of the draft.

"He had a lot of hype coming in," Robinson said. "I remember reading a lot about him and couldn't wait to see him.

"It took him a couple years to really get his feet on the ground. I think he now understands the pitchers in the league, what they're trying to do to him and [made] some adjustments." -Frank Robinson on Bryce Harper, May 2015

"It took him a couple years to really get his feet on the ground. I think he now understands the pitchers in the league, what they're trying to do to him and [made] some adjustments.

"He's the real thing. I think you're gonna see a lot of exciting things out of this young man for a lot of years."

Harper's evolution as a player is something now-former Nationals' manager Matt Williams talked about with reporters throughout the 2015 campaign.

After Harper's stretch of six homers in three games began with a three-homer game against the Miami Marlins and right-hander Tom Koehler, Williams talked about what was different for Harper early this season.

Following his 3 for 4 performance against the Fish, Harper had a .265/.415/.561 line on the year with five doubles, eight home runs, 26 walks and 36 Ks in 29 games and 125 plate appearances.

Harper's swing, Williams said, "was short and compact," and, the manager added, "he's seeing the ball well. By his number of walks this season we know that, and he got some pitches to hit today."

Harper took Koehler deep in each of his first three at bats that day, sending a 92 mph 0-1 fastball out to left field in the bottom of the second, a 93 mph 0-1 fastball out to right in the third, and an 0-1 slider outside to right in the fifth.

"His patience is key," Williams said after the win. "If he can be patient enough then he can work himself into counts that he can drive baseballs.

"That's an important part of his game right now. So, I know he's pleased with it, we're all pleased with the way he's going about it."

"Of course you're not going to do that every single day," Harper told reporters.

"You're not going to go out there and hit three homers or whatever and drive in five. But that's the type of player I need to be."

"Definitely one of the better moments of my career."

Two days later, in a series-opening win over the Braves, Harper hit two more out, taking Braves' lefty Eric Stults deep on a 90 mph 1-2 fastball in the sixth for the first.

He crushed a 92 mph fastball from right-hander Williams Perez in his next at bat, giving him five home runs in eight at bats over two games.

"It's calm and it's quick and he's waiting for the baseball, he's not going to get it... when he does that he's got the ability to do what he did, hit a ball to left-center, hit a ball to right, and drive them." -Matt Williams on Bryce Harper's evolution as a hitter

"It's calm and it's quick and he's waiting for the baseball, he's not going to get it," Williams said, breaking down Harper's swing after the 9-2 win over Atlanta.

"As we spoke about a couple days ago, when he does that he's got the ability to do what he did, hit a ball to left-center, hit a ball to right, and drive them. When he gets outside of himself, sometimes it doesn't happen for him.

"But the last couple of games, he's been exceptional."

Was it just maturity, a reporter wondered, or an improved approach?

"All of the above," Williams said. "For me, anyway, it's him starting to understand himself and what he can and can't do. And what works for him and what makes him successful.

"Of those swings in the last couple of games, I haven't seen one of them that's been out of control. So if he can wait for the baseball, he can see it purer, and he takes a quick easy swing on it, those results can happen for him."

"His lower half is key.

"It's just that he feels good, he's seeing the ball good. He's seen it good all year. He's leading the league in walks and now he's tied for the league-lead in homers too.

"That just means that he's calm and he's waiting for the baseball and he's simply getting the bat-head to it."

"Like I've been saying, that's the way I need to play," Harper explained. "That's the way this team needs to go about our business every single day.

Harper capped off the amazing stretch the next afternoon.

After going 1 for 2 with a walk and a single in his first four trips to the plate, he stepped in with a runner on and one out in the ninth inning of a 6-6 game with the Braves and hit a 1-0 slider from righty Cody Martin out to center for a walk-off winner.

"He's taking what they give him," Williams said. "Today he hit a single the other way on a pitch kind of down and off the plate and then got, I think it was an offspeed pitch to hit in the last inning there."

Williams was asked what it was like to see Harper "finally" hitting like he was expected to when he was drafted?

"That's the type of player I need to be. That's what I need to be like, that's how I need to play and the fans expect that, I expect that out of myself." -Bryce Harper after walk-off home run vs Braves in May

"I don't know if it's finally," he said. "He's still 22. I mean, that's the perception a little bit, right? Finally?

"But he's 22 years old and just 22, so I think he's starting to learn himself. He's learning how to play within himself. He's learning how to, as I said, take what's given to him.

"He's taken to right field very well, taken to hitting in the middle of the order very well. We certainly don't expect him to hit a home run every day, but he can get in streaks like that where he's seeing the ball really well and putting the head on it. And so, from a maturation standpoint, yes, he's getting there. He's taking those steps necessary."

"Just trying to get a pitch over the plate," Harper said when asked about his approach.

"I think that last pitch was a slider or a curveball. I knew he had a heater, but just try to look for something over the plate and end the ballgame."

"That's the type of player I need to be," he reiterated. "That's what I need to be like, that's how I need to play and the fans expect that, I expect that out of myself."

Harper's sixth home run in that three-game stretch was his 11th on the year to that point.

He hit 42 total on the season when it was over, twenty more than his previous single-season high, and finished the year with a .330/.460/.649 line, 124 walks and 131 Ks in 153 games and 654 PAs, over which he was worth a major league-leading 9.5 fWAR.

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