Talking about Bryce Harper’s issues at the plate, (7 for 39; .179/.289/.256, with a home run, four walks, and 18 Ks in 45 plate appearances so far in June), Washington Nationals’ hitting coach Kevin Long told The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal that he looked at the 25-year-old’s low BABIP (.219 before Saturday’s game, down from .356 overall in 2016 and a .316 career mark), and the fact that Harper was frustrated and expanding the zone, as the main causes for his issues thus far in 2018.
If he stays in the zone, Long said, and swings at good pitches, “he’s deadly.”
Harper had a .225/.366/.498 line on the year heading into Saturday’s matchup with the Blue Jays in Toronto, and went 0 for 4 with two Ks in a 2-0 loss, leaving him with a .221/.361/.489 line in 294 PAs on the season, though he does still lead the NL in HRs (19) and walks (51).
“I feel great,” Harper told reporters, as quoted by MLB.com’s Jamal Collier on Saturday. “Just missing pitches.”
Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez was asked after the second straight loss to the Blue Jays if he’d considered giving Harper a rest so he can relax and try to start to turn things around.
“We talked and he wants to play,” Martinez said. “That’s who he is, and any given day he can hit two home runs. For me as long as he’s mentally feeling — he comes in today and he was laughing, he was in good spirits, you know, the game starts, he don’t get any hits, but you know what, he felt good, and so what I think I’d like him to do is maybe not swing so much.
“He’s been swinging a lot. And I really think now it’s time to take less swings and just go play and see if we can work something out.”
Is Harper overdoing it behind the scenes, and in batting practice, and pressing as he tries to turn things around? And what, if any, adjustments can be made at this point?
“Just try to get pitches to hit and not miss them,” Harper told MLB.com. “Plain and simple.”
“Like I said, I watch him and he gets a little frustrated,” Martinez said.
“The biggest thing is to just keep him level-headed and let him go out there and just do his thing. I’ve said this before, he’s one of the best players in the game, he’s gonna carry us, I know he is, so I just want him to go out there and just have fun, and like I said, just do the little things, take his walks. This guy had a couple pitches to hit today and he fouled them back, so usually, typically he hits those balls and he hits them really hard and really far, so I just want him to go out there and just relax and play the game, and when he does that he’s really good.”
Maybe Harper’s role model can inspire him to start to turn things around. He’ll be wearing special Harper 3 Father’s Day cleats in the finale in the Rogers Centre, which feature, “... a graphic that harkens back to days of comic books and comic strips to honor one of the first ‘superheroes’ in our players’ lives on this special day.”
Harper’s father, Ron Harper, was in New York earlier this week, throwing batting practice to his son. If Harper does participate in the Home Run derby at the All-Star Game next month, his father will be the one throwing to him again.
“If I do decide to do it, he will definitely throw to me,” Harper told MLB.com’s Bill Ladson this week.