He arrived at Nationals Park shortly before noon, cruising down the hallway toward the home clubhouse on a Hoverboard, joking with a teammate as he maneuvered the craft on a concrete path. It's business as usual for Harper, even if the Nats need to win today to avoid falling into an 0-2 hole in the best-of-five series before it shifts to Los Angeles on Monday.
Harper went 1-for-5 with a third-inning double in the Nats' 4-3 loss to the Dodgers on Friday night, and once again, the Dodgers didn't exactly give him a lot to hit. Manager Dusty Baker moved the right fielder into the two-hole in the lineup, with left fielder Jayson Werth taking Harper's usual third slot in the order. The inference was that Baker wanted to relieve some of the pressure from the defending NL MVP, perhaps getting him a few more meaty fastballs if leadoff hitter Trea Turner managed to reach base safely ahead of him.
For Game 2, Harper occupies the same position in the batting order against left-hander Rich Hill, and the Nats hope something awakens his slumbering lumber.
Harper hasn't been hitting of late, and closed the season with a .210/.327/.321 slash line with one homer and 11 RBIs over his last 24 games of the regular season. Despite a .310/.398/.536 line in August, Harper put together only a .226/.336/.373 line with five homers and 34 RBIs in a disappointing second half.
His last home run came Sept. 10, and Harper went deep only twice in the regular season's final 34 games.
It's no surprise that teams haven't been throwing Harper many pitches he can square up. That leaves Harper with two choices: Watch borderline pitches and try to work a walk, or make hay out of something hittable that's merely near the strike zone. He drew 70 walks in the first half, but only 38 in the second half, an indication that he's pressing a little.
In the sixth inning Friday night, after Turner had drawn a two-out walk - the only time the leadoff man reached base in Game 1 - Dodgers reliever Guy Dayton exploited the lefty-lefty matchup by throwing a lot of pitches away, trying to get Harper to chase. Dayton won the battle, getting Harper to sky to right for the inning's final out. Against closer Kenley Jansen in the ninth, Harper sent a soft liner to second baseman Charlie Culberson for the game's penultimate out.
What transpired with Harper at the plate didn't surprise Nats manager Dusty Baker.
"Well, I'll put it to you this way: The Dodgers have been scouting us for a couple of weeks and so they sort of follow suit on what other people have done," Baker said when he met the media Saturday afternoon before Game 2. "I mean, I can see the way they attacked some guys with just breaking balls and they attacked some guys with high fastballs. I mean, this is what scouting is really about. So I wasn't surprised on how they attacked him yesterday. Now it's up to us, once we know their game plan, it's up to us to counteract their game plan and do something different."
Baker said Harper possesses a unique quality to shake off the doldrums and not let a slump - even a prolonged power outage - affect his approach.
"The one thing Bryce is not lacking is confidence," Baker said. "And sometimes I think people can misconstrue that as arrogance, which it's not."