Dusty Baker talked about seeing positive signs from Bryce Harper before the 23-year-old slugger missed five games with stiffness in his neck.
After a 1 for 3 day against the San Francisco Giants, in which he scored a run and drove one in with a sac fly, Baker told reporters he was happy to see Harper barrel up some pitches and take what opposing pitchers were giving him.
“He’s been hitting the ball on the nose and hitting the ball the other way and that’s how you’ve got to approach this thing,” Baker explained.
“This thing”, of course, is the slump the defending NL MVP has been dealing with since April.
“It didn’t take you a week to get in this hole and it’s going to take you probably twice as long to get out, but it’s nice to see him hitting the ball good again.”
Harper was lifted from the game that followed with stiffness in his neck, and after conjecture about the nature and extent of the injury, he returned to the lineup for Sunday’s afternoon’s series finale with the Atlanta Braves.
In his first game back, Harper went 1 for 3 with an RBI double to left, a walk and two runs scored in the Nationals’ 9-1 win.
“I thought he looked great,” Baker told reporters after the game.
“He got us on the board there in the first inning. Nice to see him hit the ball to left field like that and he played well. And it was a welcome sight.”
In his second game back last night, in Coors Field, Harper went 3 for 3 with two walks, reaching base in every plate appearances and collecting his first multi-hit game since July 7th in Citi Field.
Harper walked the first time up, doubled with two out in the third, walked to load the bases in the fifth and doubled to drive in a run in the seventh before singling the final time up in the ninth.
“He was getting some hits,” Baker said. “He stayed off some tough pitches, but it’s great to see him swinging the bat.”
In an on-field interview with MASN’s Dan Kolko after the game, Harper talked about the time off and his decision to return to the lineup.
“Really just trying to go about it the right way every day and I didn’t think I could help the team at that point when I was hurt,” Harper said.
“I came in the other day like I said and felt like I could contribute and really help the team. Thought I could do that tonight as well and felt great.”
Baker said he thought the time off might possibly help Harper.
“We talked about it before,” Baker explained. “A week is enough to clear anything out. You look at J.W., look how Jayson Werth responds after a day off, usually after a day off he comes out firing. And so does Daniel Murphy, so it’s great to have Bryce swinging the way he did tonight, and boy, it was just a great win for us on that first game of a road trip.”
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