But in Thursday’s 4-2 win over the Orioles, Harper displayed some of the technique and strategies manager Davey Martinez wanted to see from his most important player. Martinez felt if Harper was put back in the leadoff spot, where he worked earlier in the season, that it would play a part in him working counts a bit more and seeing more pitches.
Before Thursday’s game, Martinez said: “My thinking is, by hopefully putting him up top, he’ll start taking his walks again and we’ll get him going. I sat around here last night to wee hours trying to contemplate what to do. I like the lineup today. I really do.”
On Thursday, Harper walked in his first at-bat, hit an important sacrifice fly to score the Nats’ first run in the third, walked again in the fifth, and doubled and scored a run to begin the game-winning rally in the eighth.
Early in the season, Harper spoke about getting only one or two hittable pitches per at-bat, and finding a way to make contact. The key to last night’s positive step in his approach was finding his pitch to hit.
“I think just not chasing any pitches on the outside half, trying to get my pitch to drive and really just trying to get a pitch over the plate,” Harper said.
And even though the numbers - .189 and 42 strikeouts in 30 games - have not backed this up, Harper believes he has actually felt better at the plate over the last month.
“My swing has felt great,” Harper said. “I’ve felt great the past month and a half or so. Just chasing pitches. Trying to get a pitch over the plate that I can drive and do the things that I can to put the bat on the ball, and not just pitcher pitches down and away or up and in or anything like that. Tonight, tried to do the best I could to get a ball over the middle, and I was able to do that.
“Going up there, just trying to get a pitch over the middle and not really worrying about one through nine or anything like that. I was able to see a lot of pitches tonight, I was able to walk a couple times and get on base and a sac fly, so I’ll take it.”
It has appeared this season that the frustrations of not connecting at the plate have worn down Harper, that he is not having as much fun as he has in seasons past. But he contends that is not true at all.
“I’m always pretty positive in myself,” Harper said. “Pretty confident in my ability. I don’t think anybody’s ever going to take that away from me. I’m able to go in here every single day, and I’ve got a great group of guys around me. Lot of fun to be around here and play this game with this team. Very confident in myself and the guys in here, and if we can keep going and keep doing that, then we’ll be good.”
So with a solid game in hand again from the leadoff spot, will Martinez keep Harper there going forward?
“Yeah, I’m thinking about it, he looked really good today,” Martinez said. “That’s kind of what I wanted to see, just him taking pitches, working counts. He had a 10-pitch at-bat the first at-bat so that was awesome. He worked the walk, so I’ll sit down right now and I’ll start figuring out tomorrow.”
The Nats believe if they can get Harper going, the team will really take off.
They already have the likes of Juan Soto, Michael A. Taylor, Wilmer Difo, Adam Eaton, Trea Turner and Anthony Rendon connecting recently on offense. Thursday was another example of what this team is capable of when most of the pistons are firing at the same time.