LOS ANGELES - Over the last few weeks, Bryce Harper has looked more like the guy he expects to be and the world expects to see.
After missing two months with a torn ligament in his thumb, the Nationals cautioned that Harper wouldn't return and be full-go right out of the gates. He needed a bit to get his timing back, to get his body back in gear and to regain strength in his hand.
Looks like that process is coming along nicely.
Over his last 23 games, Harper is batting .310/.352/.571. And over his last five games, the power has really started to return.
Harper now has four homers in his last five games, including last night's blast to right-center off Clayton Kershaw.
It not only marked the first homer Kershaw had allowed to a left-handed hitter all season, it marked the first RBI he had surrendered to a lefty all year. And Harper's longball wasn't a cheapie.
"He's the best pitcher in baseball, hands down," Harper said afterward. "He goes out there every single night. He locates his pitches - he has his fastball, his curveball, his change-up, slider. He's very, very good. He's definitely the best pitcher in baseball, I think."
Kershaw and Harper squared off four times last night. Harper popped up in the second inning after a five-pitch battle that featured all fastballs from Kershaw. In the fourth, Kershaw mixed in his dazzling off-speed stuff, and Harper got buckled by a sharp curve.
"I felt pretty good in my first AB," Harper said. "I thought I had a great at-bat. He challenged me with some heaters. The second AB, he made me look pretty dumb with a curveball - probably the best curveball I've ever seen in my life. To go up that next AB, I was just trying to look for something in the zone, trying to really make swing at something good and make something happen."
He made something happen, all right, smoking a fastball to right-center.
"To hit a homer against a Cy Young guy, of course, that's pretty awesome," Harper said. "But I think in my career I'm like 1-for-9 with six strikeouts (against Kershaw). He's winning the battle right now. You just got to tip your cap to a guy like that. To be able to hit a homer against him is pretty fun."
Harper enjoyed the battle and feels another one might be coming in the near future.
"That's a guy we have to go out there and try to beat," Harper said. "We're going to see him in the postseason, probably, and it's going to be a lot more hectic. Hopefully, we're going to be ready for that."
For now, the Nats can take comfort in the fact that Harper is looking more and more like the potent force we've seen in the past, and he's heating up just at the right time.