VIERA, Fla. - It would appear that Bryce Harper is as locked in as locked in can be right now.
The Nationals left fielder has 16 hits in 36 spring at-bats, good for a .444 average. After pulling a three-run home run over the right-center field fence today, Harper has three homers, two doubles and a triple this spring. He’s slugging a ridiculous .806 in 13 games played.
Ask Harper about his approach at the plate, however, and he’ll manage to find something that irks him.
“I don’t know. I can’t hit a change-up right now,” Harper said following today’s game.
The other day, Harper sent a tweet asking, “Can’t it just be April 1st already,” clearly expressing a desire for opening day to arrive. Today, Harper backed off that a bit, saying he’s still got things to accomplish during the next few weeks before the Nats and Marlins meet at Nationals Park to kick off the season.
“Spring training is long,” Harper said. “I wish it would start pretty soon. But we’ve got two weeks to work on some things. I’ve got to try to get better in the outfield and do some things out there and still try to work with Denard (Span) and see how he communicates out there. And I’ve still got to try to get a few more ABs under my belt.
“Like I said, it’s still March. Guys are getting better. Pitchers are still getting better. I’ve still got work.”
Harper is still making some adjustments this spring, one of which is to hitting in the No. 3 spot in the lineup behind Span and Jayson Werth. In the first inning today, Span walked and Werth reached on an error, setting the table for Harper’s three-run blast.
“With the two guys in front of me, they’re going to get on base and give me a lot of pitches (to look at),” Harper said. “They’re just going to make me better. Denard’s an unbelievable leadoff guy, sees a lot of pitches. Werth is the same way. It’s just going to make the team better. It’s going to be good.”
Then there’s the adjustment to playing left field full-time, which might not be all that much of an adjustment because of Harper’s past experience in left. He played 37 games in left at Double-A Harrisburg in 2011, two more there at Triple-A Syracuse in 2012 and seven games in left at the big league level last season.
Harper will, however, need to get used to playing alongside Span and learning how much ground the speedster can cover. He’ll also need to fine-tune a couple quirks that come with playing left.
“I feel pretty good out there,” Harper said. “I don’t feel bad. It’s just sometimes a lefty will hit a sinking line drive out there, and I’ve got to work on that. Just trying to really work with Denard and see how far he can go in the gap, see how he can get to balls. If he can get them, then I’ll let him. I don’t need to really run that much.”
Today’s home run came off Matt Harvey, a talented young right-hander who Harper faced three times in the big leagues last season. Harper struck out in two of those three at-bats, but he got a hold of one today.
“I think it was a high fastball, a 1-2 high fastball,” Harper said. “He got me at their place a couple times, and he got me my second AB (today). Just tip your cap to a guy like that. He’s an unbelievable pitcher. He’s pretty amazing out there. ...
“I’m just trying to stay as patient as I can, trying to get a pitch up in the zone and try to square up as many pitches as I can down here.”
And then it’s on to the regular season and whatever offensive numbers - ridiculous as they could turn out to be - that await him there.