It was a particularly rough afternoon at the plate for Bryce Harper. The talented rookie struck out five times against the Yankees in a 5-3, 14-inning loss before a sellout crowd of 41,287 at Nationals Park.
Yankees starter Andy Pettitte used his slider to subdue Harper with three consecutive strikeouts. In his final pair of strikeouts, the frustration started to show as Harper had plenty to say to home plate umpire Tim Timmons.
In the field, Harper did not miss a beat. He played masterful defense, making a pair of outstanding catches in the outfield and showing that his focus never wavered despite the difficulties at the dish.
But in the end, it was certainly a learning experience for the 19-year-old. Manager Davey Johnson said he felt Harper might have been a little anxious stepping in against the Yankees’ veteran Pettitte.
“I thought he was probably really amped up,” Johnson said. “I have never seen him swing at balls out of the zone. He was chasing balls. He got in that mode. He was trying to make something happen. That is part of his youth. That is inexperience. Other guy is in a jam, we don’t have to help him out. We helped him out. But, we will get better at it.”
Shortstop Ian Desmond kept the Nationals in the game with a game-tying solo homer, but also has gone through times, like Saturday, where he had to quickly forget a costly error or a bad plate appearance. He believes Harper will do the same thing, have a short memory, and bounce back from the rough day.
“I would rather strike out five times in the big leagues as a 19-year-old than not be in the big leagues at all,” Desmond said. “I would definitely put my money on him to bounce back. I don’t think that it is going to keep him down for too long. I am sure he will come in tomorrow, shake it off and be back to the same energetic kid that we have all seen.”
It is surprising that a day like this didn’t come early for Harper. He has played 43 games, and this was the first game where he struggled from start to finish at the plate. Veteran first baseman Adam LaRoche took it upon himself to have a talk with Harper after the game to make sure he was OK.
“I said, ‘Shake it off,’ ” LaRoche said. “I told him that it is not the last time you will have a bad game. I told him before, ‘If you are lucky, you will have a lot of bad games because you will be playing a long time. Shake it off and hurt them tomorrow.’ “
The Yankees knew Harper was going to be aggressive, and they played right into that. Now, Harper must counter with the patience he has shown many times to take a few pitches and get into the at-bat. After all, he is still batting .289 and has done things no 19-year-old has done in the big leagues in a long time.
Just shake it off and move on. Harper, even at 19 years old, has done it before.