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Dusty Baker on Nationals' slugger Bryce Harper's struggles: "He's kind of in-between..."

Washington Nationals' skipper Dusty Baker has seen it all before, so he knows that what Bryce Harper is going through right now is tough, but he also knows that the preternaturally-gifted 23-year-old slugger will work his way out of his current slump...

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Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Cubs walked defending NL MVP Bryce Harper 13 times in 19 plate appearances during Washington's four-game visit to Chicago's Wrigley Field earlier this month, with six of the walks coming in seven PAs in the series finale.

Cubs' skipper Joe Maddon talked after the fourth game about the decision to work around the Washington Nationals' 23-year-old slugger, in spite of the fact that Harper wasn't exactly tearing the cover off the ball heading into the series.

"He's kind of in-between," Baker said. "He's ahead of breaking balls and offspeed pitches and he's behind on fastballs. -Dusty Baker on Bryce Harper's struggles at the plate

"You know how good he is and why tempt fate right there?" Maddon asked rhetorically.

"Now if the other guy gets you, that's fine. You have no problem with that whatsoever.

"I know he's not been as hot as he can be coming into this series, but you don't want to get him hot. I've been part of that in the past, so we did what we thought we had to do today and it happened to work, so good for our guys."

Harper walked 17 times in 113 plate appearances before that series in Chicago, with four intentional walks, but the free passes picked up after the four-game set with the Cubs, to the tune of 31 walks (nine intentional) in his last 75 PAs.

His struggles when he gets pitches to hit have continued as well. Talking about Harper's slump earlier this month, Nats' skipper Dusty Baker suggested that all the walks might actually help straighten Harper out in the end.

"Let's face it, when he was seeing pitches, he wasn't really hitting them," Baker said, referring to the slide that started before the series in Chicago.

"Before they stopped pitching to Bryce, about the last couple weeks in April, he was kind of struggling a little bit. You know what I mean?

"So they're actually doing Bryce a favor. The more pitches he sees he can zero in on what is good and what's not."

"It's tough to take now, but I think this could possibly help him in the long-run," Baker continued. "Because it's all about vision and determining one pitch from another pitch and Bryce, when he does get a pitch to hit, he's fouled it off.

"You go through different stages and transformations as a player and as a hitter and this is -- I didn't know the other day, I had forgotten that Barry Bonds walked two hundred times or something, one year, and I was there and I don't remember -- you would think I would remember two hundred times, all I remember is some home runs and hitting .370. Bryce will be fine."

"You've got to remember, when I had Barry Bonds, and he was being walked 200 times, he was 32 years old, he was nine years older than Bryce..." -Dusty Baker on Bryce Harper's recent struggles at the plate

After an 0 for 4 day at the plate in St. Louis on April 30th left him with a .286/.406/.714 line on the year going into May, Harper's gone 12 for 58 (.207/.478/.328) over his last 21 games and 92 plate appearances, with a double, two home runs, 31 walks and 21 Ks in 21 games.

Following last night's 0 for 4 performance against Bartolo Colon (0 for 3) and New York Mets' reliever Jerry Blevins (0 for 1), Baker was asked once again what he's seeing from Harper at the plate and what adjustments the left-handed hitting outfielder needs to make?

"He's kind of in-between," Baker said. "He's ahead of breaking balls and offspeed pitches and he's behind on fastballs.

"It's about vision and recognition. I mean, right now, I've been there, everybody has been there. When you're hitting good the ball looks like a beach ball and when you're not swinging good it looks like a golf ball.

"So it's about vision and he'll get it cause this guy has tremendous eyes and hand-eye coordination, so it just happens to be -- his name happens to be Bryce Harper and he's kind of spoiled us all."

Baker brought up the comparisons to Bonds again, and talked about the seasons when pitchers rarely gave the Giants' slugger anything to hit, but noted that there is one significant difference.

"You've got to remember, when I had Barry Bonds, and he was being walked 200 times, he was 32 years old, he was nine years older than Bryce," Baker explained.

"He learned to deal with it. How would Barry have dealt with it when he was 23 years old?

"I remember talking to Barry one time and I think Barry was 23, 24 and he was hitting .236 when he was in Pittsburgh.

"That's what people don't realize. They realize Barry Bonds after he got it all together, but you look at his record, early in his career, Bryce is miles ahead of Barry right now in his career. Barry struggled.

"I don't think everybody ever realizes it, or even goes back to see that at some point in time, Barry struggled."

It was Bonds' extraordinary ability to focus that allowed him to wait for the right pitches and hit them out when he did get them, Baker said.

"Barry had mastered concentration to another level. I saw Barry get one or two pitches a night, he wouldn't be lulled to sleep, he wouldn't miss them and he'd hit them out of the ballpark.

"They'd think they had him set up for that fastball or whatever pitch they were setting up for and then Barry -- I never saw him get frustrated about being walked.

"I've seen him take his elbow guard off during the middle of a pitch, because he realized when it left [the pitcher's] hand that it was a ball, because he had tremendous vision and Bryce has the same vision.

"Hank Aaron had the same vision, but let's not forget this guy is very young player that's trying to still master his skill."

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