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Matt Williams talks Nationals' slugger Bryce Harper, plate discipline

Bryce Harper's tape-measure-testing blasts are impressive to see, but Washington Nationals' skipper Matt Williams said it's the 22-year-old slugger's plate discipline that is making the difference this season as Harper takes it to another level.

Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Tom Koehler threw his arms up in anger. Or maybe disbelief. Or both, probably. With runners on first and third and two out in the fifth inning of Wednesday night's game in Miami, the Marlins' starter got ahead 1-2 on Washington's 22-year-old slugger, Bryce Harper, but the 93 mph fastball he threw up high inside ended up sailing out to right field in Marlins Park for Harper's seventh hit and sixth home run in 21 at bats against Koehler in their respective careers.

Harper's second hit, after a single in his previous at bat and first of two home runs on the night traveled 395 feet to right.

"Koehler got him on the first at bat with a fastball and went back to it and [Harper] was ready for it. Those are the in-game adjustments that he's making." -Matt Williams on Bryce Harper

Three innings later, the Nationals' 2010 no.1 pick stepped in against Marlins' reliever Sam Dyson and crushed a 95 mph first-pitch fastball, sending a towering 420 foot blast eight rows back in the upper deck in right field.

The distance the blasts traveled didn't impress Nats' skipper Matt Williams, who talked about Harper's exploits when he met with reporters after the Nationals' 7-2 win.

"Hank Aaron said it, 'It's not how far it's how many,'" Williams told reporters.

The home runs were Harper's 28th and 29th in 393 plate appearances in 2015, seven more than his previous season high of 22 in 597 plate appearances in his rookie campaign in 2012 and 16 more than than he hit in 395 PAs last season.

"He had a good game," Williams said when asked about Harper's 3 for 4 night. He struck out in his first at bat, singled the next time up and homered in each of last two trips to the plate.

"Koehler got him on the first at bat with a fastball and went back to it and [Harper] was ready for it," Williams said.

"Those are the in-game adjustments that he's making. He's learning how to make those in-game adjustments where he can be ready for that next at bat, and he did a lot of damage today."

The fact that Harper got pitches to hit was more surprising than the results.

As Williams has said all along, it's Harper's patience at the plate and his disciplined approach that have made the difference in his fourth major league season.

"It's his knowledge of the strike zone. That's what's important to him. That's the measure of his success. He can swing at balls out of the zone, but he's not going to have as much success..." -Matt Williams on Bryce Harper's plate discipline

"It's his knowledge of the strike zone," Wiliams said.

"That's what's important to him. That's the measure of his success. He can swing at balls out of the zone, but he's not going to have as much success [as he will] if he swings at balls in the strike zone. And tonight he did. And that's an example of what he can do. Regardless of whether it's a two-strike or it's the first pitch like his second homer. If he's disciplined enough and gets a good pitch to hit then he can hit like that."

Williams was asked if the presence of veterans Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman in the lineup, batting in front of and behind Harper after they both returned from the DL, would result in Harper getting better pitches to hit?

"I don't think so," he said.

"I think that, one, I thought that he had a good swing against Koehler on a curveball, and then [Koehler] didn't go back to it. He tried to get him fastballs in. He got him in the first at bat, left one out over a little bit that [Harper] was able to get. I don't see it differently. It's a question of Bryce being patient enough to get good pitches to hit. That's important for him."

Though Williams said Werth and Zimmerman returning might not change the way pitchers approach Harper, the Nats' outfielder said it does change some things for him.

"Having Werth hit in front of me," makes a difference, Harper explained, because Werth's patience at the plate provides a good opportunity to get a look at what's coming.

"Him seeing a lot of pitches, being able to get my routine down in the on-deck circle, and watch that pitcher for a little bit and definitely having [Zimmerman] behind me, I think it's just going to get better and better as we go."

No matter who is hitting around him in the lineup, however, Harper's determined to continue doing what he's been able to do all season, remain patient at the plate.

"I'm just trying to stay as patient as I can," he said. "I'm trying to draw my walks as best I can. Really, if I can get on base, that's the biggest thing, that's all that matters. Looking back on that first inning, definitely should have walked in that first at bat, pitch off the inside of the plate, but was able to come back and hit the two bombs and get a base knock to left, so just trying to really stay within myself and try to have good at bats and, like I said, it's huge to have they guys back that we do."