Bryce Harper went 2 for 5 on Friday night, driving in two runs with an opposite field double in the seventh off Miami Marlins’ left-hander Adam Conley, which left him 15 for 38 against left-handers this season (.224/.361/.414) with two doubles, three home runs, 12 walks, and 15 Ks in 72 plate appearances vs southpaws this season.
It was Harper’s third two-hit night in the last four games, which left him with 18 hits over 80 ABs (.225/.279/.550) in May, with five doubles, seven homers, five walks, and 18 Ks over 20 games and 86 PAs, after he went 22 for 89 (.247/.458/.528) with a double, eight home runs, 38 walks, and 21 Ks over 29 games and 131 PAs in March/April.
“We talk about it all the time with him,” Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez said when asked about Harper connecting with the 2-2 fastball from Conley, a 95 mph heater outside, sending it to left, via the hole at third base with Brian Anderson off the bag.
“Just get the ball in the strike zone and use the whole field, I mean, they’re going to give you that, and he went out there and had a great at bat.”
Harper was 5 for 18 (.278/.316/.500) with three doubles, a triple, a walk, and five Ks in 19 PAs against Fish left-hander Wei-Yin Chen going into Saturday afternoon’s game in Marlins Park.
It didn’t go well for the Nationals’ 25-year-old outfielder, who chased a 2-2 fastball outside and went down swinging in his first at bat against Chen, then promptly destroyed his bat while pitching coach Derek Lilliquist and 19-year-old teammate Juan Soto did their best to ignore what was going on behind them...
Chen got Harper with a 2-2 slider in his their second matchup in the third, and Harper took an 0-2 fastball for a called third strike the third time up after he fouled off a slider and then watched one break in for strike two. Going back to two at bats in 2016, that made it five Ks in his last five plate appearances against the lefty.
Harper fouled off two 2-2 fastballs from right-hander Kyle Barraclough, then spit on back-to-back changeups to draw a walk in his fourth trip to the plate, before striking out in the ninth on a 1-2 change from righty Odrisamer Despaigne, after fouling off a first-pitch cutter and a 1-1 sinker from the right-hander.
It was the fifth four-strikeout game of Harper’s career, and his first since 2016, when he did it twice, after doing it twice (for 4 and 5 Ks in separate games) during his first season in the majors in 2012.
On the season, Harper was left with a .231/.383/.526 line, six doubles, an NL-leading 15 HRs, 44 walks, and 43 Ks in 222 PAs (after, remember, he started the year with 38 BB/21 Ks in the first month-plus).
So how is he handling what’s been a frustrating first two months, first with all the walks in March/April, and then with his struggles (but a bunch of homers) in May?
“You know what, he’ll snap out of it, that’s the only thing I can say.” Martinez told reporters after what ended up a 4-1 win when the Nationals’ rallied late with a run in the eighth and three in the ninth, to overcome a 1-0 deficit.
“He’s fouling his pitches off, we’ve got to get him to slow down a little bit, take his walks, get his hits, get on base and start having fun again. We need him, and like I said before, he’s one of the best players in baseball, and any given day he can get three hits, hit three home runs, and move forward.”
For the sake of Harper’s bats, hopefully he has a good game at the plate in today’s finale in Miami.