It was immediately evident when Bryce Harper hopped into the batting cage at Nationals Park yesterday afternoon that the 21-year-old had made some changes to his stance since we last saw him prior to the All-Star break.
Harper was standing taller, without much knee-bend at all, and didn't have his hands perched up behind his head like he typically does. I thought that it looked similar to the stance that Steve Lombardozzi used during his time with the Nationals, and others compared it to one of the many stances that Cal Ripken Jr. used during his playing days.
The stack-and-jack approach (which is what this type of stance is called in the baseball world) is pretty much exactly the adjustment that Jayson Werth made a couple weeks ago. Since starting to stand taller in the box, Werth has caught fire, and Harper showed signs that he could be coming out of a personal slump, as well, going 3-for-4 last night with a rocket of a solo homer into the Nats bullpen in the ninth inning.
"I think he's stood up a touch more to get on top of the baseball," Nats manager Matt Williams said after last night's 4-2 loss. "Lowered his hands a little bit, probably more direct to the ball. He worked on that over the break. Looked good up there tonight. Hit the ball hard tonight. Just missed the ball he popped up, too.
"So he's seeing it good, and certainly the homer gives him some confidence and the other two hits are taking what the opposition is giving him. So that's a good sign."
Williams and his coaches had been saying that Harper's timing was getting closer to returning in the days leading up to the All-Star break. The results still weren't quite there - Harper did homer in the first game of the Phillies series, but went 2-for-9 with three strikeouts and no walks in those three games going into the break - but the sense was that Harper was getting close.
The improved timing combined with these adjustments to Harper's stance, the Nats hope, will get him on one of his prolonged hot streaks.
"I don't know. I just felt really comfortable," Harper said when asked about his new stance last night. "That's the main thing. I think going forward just trying to have some fun and just relax a little bit.
"There's varies of it. I think I feel very good up there right now. I'm not trying to think too much. Just trying to go up there, feel comfortable, get the rhythm and go."
The Nats lost the game last night, but if they can get Harper on track, that would be a major win for them. Harper is talented enough to carry this team offensively for a long stretch if he's locked in, and last night was certainly a positive step in that direction.