After the second of three losses to the New York Mets last week in the nation's capital, 22-year-old Nationals' slugger Bryce Harper was asked how the team regrouped after the disappointing showing in the crucial series, which left Washington 6.0 games back at the point, and what the mindset was going in to the next game?
"Game over," Harper said. "It's over right now. So we're trying to just worry about tomorrow and see if we can go ahead and have some good at bats against [Jacob] deGrom and hopefully pull the trigger early."
Harper went 0 for 8 with four Ks in the first two games against the Mets, then bounced back with a 3 for 4 performance in the series finale, hitting two home runs and a double in a losing effort.
Harper took deGrom deep in the first, hitting a 97 mph fastball up high, inside out to right field for his 35th home run of the season, then went yard again in the bottom of the eighth, taking a 3-1 heater from Tyler Clippard into the second deck above the right field bullpen to get the Nationals within one in what ended up a 5-3 loss.
"The ball Harper hit in the first inning," Mets' skipper Terry Collins told reporters, "that was a pretty good pitch. That's what the great hitters do, they can take a good pitch and do damage with it."
Harper's three-hit game against New York left him with a .336/.467/.657 line, 34 doubles, 36 home runs, 109 walks and 113 Ks in 132 games and 565 plate appearances on the year.
He had a rough night in the series opener in Miami though, going 0 for 3 with a walk, three Ks and four left on base in what ended up a 2-1 loss.
He walked in his first at bat against right-hander Jarred Cosart, but struck out in his next three with runners on in each of his last two at bats, one against Cosart and one against Marlins' lefty Mike Dunn.
"The first strikeout was right on the corner," Nats' skipper Matt Williams told reporters after the Nationals' fourth straight loss.
"We went up and looked at it. It's a good pitcher's pitch and then against Dunn, he got ahead of him and got him with the heater. But Bryce has had a fantastic year for us. Had a couple opportunities tonight, it didn't happen for him, but we'll try to give him those opportunities again every day, that's for sure."
Harper connected for one hit and struck out twice in four trips to the plate last night in the fifth straight loss for the Nationals, which left them 9.5 games back with 21 to play.
Marlins' closer A.J. Ramos threw three straight off-speed pitches by Harper for the second out of the ninth after starting behind 2-0.
"The first two that he check swung on were changeups," Williams said, "and I think that last one was a breaking ball, but he just didn't give him anything to hit."
Harper finished the first two games of the three-game set in Miami 1 for 7 with five Ks.
After a series of frustrating losses, however, Harper told reporters that he and his teammates still took the same approach to the remaining games.
"If you’re gonna be out there, you might as well play as hard as you can," he told reporters, including Washington Post writer Chelsea Janes. "You’re out there anyway. So we just gotta play the game."
Williams was asked if he thought Harper's frustration with the way things have gone was showing at the plate?
"I don't think he's getting frustrated," the second-year skipper said.
"I think for him, again, his secret to his success is patience. And tonight, in the last at bat anyway, he got a little bit out of that. Just missed a curveball from the lefty in his previous at bat and hit it deep to right, but again, if he can stay in that zone then he'll continue to have the success he's having."
In the series finale with the Marlins, Harper was facing left-hander Brad Hand, against whom he was 4 for 13 with a home run and a triple in their respective careers.
He started the series finale in Miami with a .315/.434/.545 line against lefties this season...