Bryce Harper batted second in just five games this season, taking most of his plate appearances (420 of 627) in the three-hole, but Washington Nationals’ skipper Dusty Baker decided to pencil the 23-year-old slugger in in the two-spot for Game 1 of the NLDS this afternoon.
When he met with reporters in advance of the series opener, Baker explained his thinking in mixing things up a little at the top of the lineup, with Harper batting second and the Nationals’ usual No. 2 hitter, Jayson Werth, batting third.
“[Harper’s] had a pretty tough time against [Clayton] Kershaw,” Baker explained.
“And so I figured if Trea [Turner] gets on, then he might see some little better pitches to hit and Jayson is the guy that’s had — probably had the most success against Kershaw. And that’s why I made that decision.”
“I talked to [Daniel] Murphy and Trea — not Trea — Murph and Harp and Jayson. I just talked to him out of respect, but they said, ‘Hey, Skip, whatever you want to do, and whatever you think that’s best, that’s what you do.
“I just talked to them out of respect.”
Harper, who struggled at the plate this season, and suffered a thumb injury late in the year, is 1 for 15 career vs Kershaw, with the one hit a home run, and 10 Ks in 15 PAs.
Werth is 10 for 35 (.286/.359/.457) with two homers, four walks and 12 Ks vs Kershaw in their respective careers.
Baker was asked if he thought having Harper batting second after his less-than-stellar season at the plate, might put him in a different mind-set and having him thinking of getting on base as opposed to hitting it out of the park?
“I had not thought about that,” Baker admitted, “but that’s a good point.”
“The thing about it is, the season is starting all over from today. What you’ve done up to this point really doesn’t matter other than getting us to this point. But what you do [going] forward is going to have a tremendous impact on this year.
“Bryce was starting to roll before he hurt his hand. You know, he had a good stroke going. We’re hoping he can continue that. He has a good mind-set about things, and he’s a strong-willed young man and a confident young man that believes he can do anything and so do we.”
Harper finished the regular season with a .243/.373/.441 line on the year, 24 doubles and 24 HRs in 147 games and 627 PAs, over which he was worth 3.4 fWAR, down from a .330/.460/.649 line, 38 doubles and 42 HRs in 153 games and 654 PAs in 2015, over which he was worth 9.5 fWAR in his NL MVP campaign.
Will he erase the struggles he dealt with this season with a strong postseason run?