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Will Bryce Harper turn into Bryce Harper to help Nationals down the stretch?

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After the Nationals stood pat at the non-waiver trade deadline on Monday, Washington's skipper Dusty Baker talked to reporters about the importance of having Bryce Harper play like Bryce Harper down the stretch...

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While convenient for the sake of #narrative purposes, the idea that Bryce Harper’s struggles at the plate began when the Chicago Cubs decided to walk him 13 times during a four-game set in Wrigley Field in early May isn’t exactly, you know, true.

Cubs’ skipper Joe Maddon acknowledged as much after instructing his staff to put Harper on six times in seven plate appearances in the series finale.

"You know how good he is and why tempt fate right there?" Maddon asked rhetorically after the Cubs swept all four games in the so-called friendly confines.

"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." -Joe Maddon on the Cubs walking Bryce Harper repeatedly

"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."

Nats’ skipper Dusty Baker said much the same when he talked to reporters about the Cubs’ approach against the 23-year-old slugger.

"Let's face it, when he was seeing pitches, he wasn't really hitting them," Baker said.

"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 hasn’t worked out as Baker hoped, unfortunately.

"Before they stopped pitching to Bryce, about the last couple weeks in April, he was kind of struggling a little bit." -Dusty Baker on Bryce Harper's struggles at the plate

Since mid-April, after Harper got off to a .359/.458/.897 start with three doubles, six home runs, eight walks and four strikeouts in the first 11 games and 48 plate appearances, he’s put up a .219/.370/.386 line with nine doubles, 14 HRs, 74 walks and 71 Ks in 91 games and 389 PAs, and that’s with fairly good .280/.382/.419, four double, three home run, 16 walk, 13 K June.

Harper just finished up a .176/.303/.319 month of July, which saw him hit one double and four home runs with 16 walks and 22 Ks in 25 games and 109 PAs.

On the year, the defending NL MVP has put up a .235/.380/.443 line with 12 doubles, 20 HRs, 82 walks, 16 intentional and 75 Ks in 102 games and 437 PAs.

When Dusty Baker talked to reporters about the Nationals not adding a bat before the non-waiver trade deadline passed yesterday, he said he was hoping a return to form for Harper and others might provide what the NL East’s first-place Nats need on the offensive end.

"I love our position," Baker said, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman, "because this has been for the last couple months without Bryce, and without [Ryan Zimmerman].

"[Anthony] Rendon is starting to come along. You figure, we haven’t been operating on full cylinders at all this year. So I’m hoping and praying that it happens when we really, really need it."

With help from some less-than-impressive pitching from the Arizona Diamondbacks last night, the Nats put together a 19-hit, 14-1 win in Chase Field.

While Baker let some of his regulars rest toward the end of the series opener with the D-Backs, he left Harper in for six plate appearances. So was he hoping to let Harper get as many looks as possible on a night which saw the Nationals swinging it well?

"The more pitches you see," Baker explained, "the more pitches that you get used to — plus, I was out of players. Somebody has to play."

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