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Nationals' skipper Dusty Baker trying to get Bryce Harper back to being Bryce Harper

Dusty Baker said Bryce Harper's day off on Wednesday was more of a mental break than anything else. Baker is hoping the Washington Nationals' slugger will benefit from a day of watching and letting all the work he's done sink in as he tries to get going again.

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An 0 for 4 night in the series opener with New York left Bryce Harper with a .207/.478/.328 line, a double, two home runs, 31 walks and 21 Ks in 92 plate appearances in the month of May.

The rough stretch for the 23-year-old defending NL MVP started in late April and continued as the rest of the league decided that it was easier to work around the left-handed hitting power threat, regardless of how he was seeing it at the plate.

Harper took his walks, but struggled with the few pitches he was actually getting.

"Bryce knows, sometimes your body loses muscle memory on what you have to do and that's why you take practice..." -Dusty Baker on Bryce Harper doing hard work to get right

Nats' skipper Dusty Baker talked before the second game of three with the Mets in D.C about the work Harper was doing behind the scenes every day to try to turn things around.

"Bryce knows, sometimes your body loses muscle memory on what you have to do and that's why you take practice," Baker explained. "That's why you take batting practice."

"Like I've said many times," he continued, "they say hitting is the hardest thing to do, but when you're not hitting they want to know what's wrong like it's easy. It's not easy. These guys make it look it easy and when you're out of sync, you've got to hit. You've got to go hit, hit, hit, hit.

But, Baker qualified, you can overdo it.

"There's a fine line between over-hitting and you're going to get your arms and wrists tired. You don't want to do that."

In the brief time they've spent together since Baker took over on the bench in the nation's capital this winter, he's seen all that Harper has done to prepare for what he has to do on a nightly basis.

What's impressed him the most? Harper's work ethic.

"You don't get that good by not working," Baker said.

"Everybody said, 'Oh, he's a natural hitter.' No you're not. You've got to work at it. Some of it is natural, but a lot of it, it becomes more natural the more work you do. Like I've said before, what's stood out to me is his vision.

"That's the same thing that stands out for Ted Williams, Rod Carew, Tony Gwynn and Barry Bonds and all the great hitters.

"You can't hit what you can't see and when you see guys striking out or missing it, most of them are pulling their heads.

"They've seen it, but they're not seeing it the whole way and you start noticing when guys miss the ball most of the time is when they pull their heads."

Harper went 0 for 4 with a sac fly in Tuesday night's home run-filled win over the Mets, but he didn't get in on the long ball action.

Baker decided to give him the day off on Wednesday afternoon, in spite of the fact that left-handed hitters have hit Mets' lefty Steven Matz fairly well early this season (.306 AVG vs right-hander's .214 AVG going in).

"It's more of a mental day off for Bryce," Baker said, but he did tell the outfielder he wanted him to pay attention on the bench.

"Just told him don't do nothing just concentrate and watch the game and see who is -- [Dodgers' manager Tommy] Lasorda used to do that for me -- and see who's going good and who's going bad and why and a lot of times you can figure yourself out.

"Sometimes you work, work, work, work and work and then it takes 24-48 hours for your body to memorize the correct muscle memory..." -Dusty Baker on the work Bryce Harper is doing to get right

"If a guy has quick feet or if he has a quick shoulder, or quick hip, or if he's lunging or if he's sitting back too far and you can tell. Or is he quiet?"

"You can straighten yourself out by watching others, by what they're doing and not doing."

Harper, the Nats' skipper explained, didn't have a problem with the news that he would get the day off yesterday.

"We have mutual respect. He was cool with it," Baker said. "He really showed no emotion at all, which is fine with me."

Did he believe that Harper would actually take his advice and relax and take the day off... while paying attention to the game, of course?

Baker said doing so could have its benefits.

"What I did tell him is I've noticed in my many years as a hitter and batting coach and a manager, that sometimes you work, work, work, work and work and then it takes 24-48 hours for your body to memorize the correct muscle memory act that you were doing -- trying to get back to normal.

"Sometimes you take a break -- Boom! -- then it gives your mind and your body time to get together as one to memorize what it's done.

"Cause you see sometimes you can compound things by doing them wrong that they appear right and natural, but you're just making it worse sometimes."

Every hitter goes through rough stretches like Harper is experiencing now, Baker told reporters, and each time it seems like it's the worst time... until the next time.

The success you have before and after the rough patches gives you confidence that you'll eventually pull out of it.

"As you got older, yeah, because you've got more positive occurrences. I pity the guy who didn't have any positive occurrences in his career, now that's the guy that has to really fight the negative thoughts.

"This is probably the worst period that Bryce has gone through, but every time you go through a bad period or bad streak, it's the worst time in your whole life until the next one comes along. No matter what it is. And you learn from it."

"I saw Hank Aaron struggle one year and then he was embarrassed to be on the All-Star team. He was really struggling, I think he was hitting .265, .270 at the All-Star break, and guess what?

"At the end of the year he was .325 and 44 homers. The cream rises to the top, you're always going to end up -- barring injury -- you're going to end up pretty close to where you belong.

"Within ten points of your batting average, probably half a dozen home runs and 15-20 RBIs from where you are normally."

Washington dropped the series finale with New York, with Harper grounding out in a pinch hit appearance.

After the loss, a reporter wondered if it was difficult to sit Harper out in a rubber match against a divisional rival and then watch the bats go quiet as they did against the Mets and Matz?

"Bryce has been quiet himself," Baker said. "I talked to Bryce today -- and yeah it was tough to sit Bryce, but you've got to sit him some time and it was a thing where you're not really sacrificing a game necessarily, but you're hoping the one game will pay dividends for the next 10-15 games. This is what you hope and the guys that I put out there I have full confidence in whoever I put out there to do the job.

"So hopefully this day off will help Bryce big-time come the St. Louis series.

"There's a couple guys that I'm sitting during the St. Louis series because you've got to sit them at some time. And so there's a couple guys I think need days off to keep them strong during the whole course of the year. And I didn't want to sit Bryce and a couple guys at the same time against St. Louis and I wasn't going to sit Bryce against the Phillies in that little band box and then we go to another band box from there in Cincinnati.

"When I started adding up things and I figured that against a tough lefty this was the day to sit him and then after that we play the White Sox where I can give some other guys a day off and let them DH, maybe including Bryce.

"I'm looking not only at the schedule today, I'm looking at the schedule for the next ten days which I always do."