Given his age and experience level, Bryce Harper’s rookie season has been pretty impressive.
Harper has appeared in every game but one since his promotion to the big leagues and has found a way to make an impact on nearly all of them. Even when he isn’t hitting, he’s able to make highlight-reel defensive plays and put pressure on the defense with his full-throttle baserunning.
There have been plenty of positives. But after a hot start to his major league career, even the rookie can admit that he’s been struggling at the plate lately.
“I’m all over the place right now,” Harper said after registering another hitless night and notching two more strikeouts in the Nationals’ 8-0 loss to the Phillies last night.
Since the All-Star break, a span of 18 games, Harper is batting just .171 with an OPS of .523. In that time, he has just three extra-base hits over 70 at-bats and has seen his season average drop to .258, the lowest it’s been since May 21.
This after Harper started his big league tenure by posting a .307 average and 19 extra-base hits in his first 40 games.
Harper’s struggles have been especially noticeable against lefties. During his first six or so weeks in the big leagues, Harper posted fantastic numbers against left-handed pitching, hitting over .350 off southpaws. Those numbers have steadily dropped off since, and Harper now is batting .246 against left-handers for the season.
His mindset at the plate, despite the recent slump, hasn’t really changed much.
“I’m trying to find some mellowness in the plate and in the box,” Harper said. “Just trying to work at it every day and try to take something good from every at-bat and take something good from every game.”
Often, when a player struggles, you see him forcing the issue, trying to overswing or hit every pitch 500 feet to make up for a poor at-bat the previous go-round. To Harper’s credit, that hasn’t really been the case with him.
Harper’s often done the opposite of press at the plate - serving outside pitches to the opposite field or focusing on just hitting the ball solidly somewhere.
“I don’t think I’m trying to do too much at all,” Harper said. “I’m trying to keep my strikeouts down and my walks up. That’s the biggest thing. Trying to square some stuff up and try to have good ABs and try to battle.”
It hasn’t helped any that opposing teams continue to pitch super carefully to Harper, giving him mostly offspeed stuff and feeding him pitches on the outer part of the plate or out of the zone completely.
Teams continue to gameplan for Harper, as well, often bringing in left-handed relievers late in the game specifically for matchups against the rookie. Last night, with the Nats trailing by six runs in the eighth, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel used the left-handed Antonio Bastardo to pitch to Harper and Steve Lombardozzi. Then, only once Harper had been retired, did Manuel go to a right-handed arm out of his ‘pen.
Over his young career, Harper has excelled at making adjustments, be it within a game or over the course of a season. He’ll need to continue to adjust on the fly to snap out of this recent slump and get back on track over the season’s final couple months.