KANSAS CITY - Let's get this out of the way, because it needs to be said right off the bat: Bryce Harper is going to start hitting again, and most likely sometime soon. He's going to start hitting like the menace to opposing pitchers he has been for the vast majority of the last two seasons.
That said, he sure isn't hitting like that guy right now.
With another feeble performance at the plate last night - 0-for-5 with three strikeouts - Harper's sudden and dramatic slump continued. He's now 1 for his last 23. He has struck out in nine of his last 13 at-bats. His batting average, which stood at .328 only seven days ago, has plummeted to .256.
Harper didn't delve too deeply into the subject when asked about his slump following last night's 7-6 loss to the Royals, insisting he still feels "great" at the plate but needs to stick with what he's doing right now to snap out of it.
"I'm really trying to stay through the ball," he said. "It's the best thing I can do right now. I'm going to try to stay through the ball as best as I can, and hopefully things will keep going and we'll keep winning ballgames. It's not about me personally as long as we're winning ballgames. I'll get going. It's just part of the game and part of trying to get through it."
Harper's slump has been made easier by the fact the Nationals had been winning, four games in a row before Jonathan Papelbon blew a two-run lead in the bottom of the ninth last night. They scored six runs without any contribution from their MVP, relying instead on home runs from Anthony Rendon, Daniel Murphy and Jayson Werth, plus extra-base hits from Ryan Zimmerman, Wilson Ramos and Chris Heisey.
But eventually this team is going to need Harper to deliver for them again in a big spot, not come up short like he did with the bases loaded in the top of the fifth last night when he grounded into a fielder's choice on an 0-2 pitch.
It feels like he's been in that situation countless times over the last week, constantly behind in the count and forced to battle with two strikes.
"That's when you're not seeing the ball," manager Dusty Baker said. "He's missing pitches, in order to get into situation to strike out. But one thing's for sure: He's gonna hit. I don't know a hitter that hasn't gone through that at some point in time. And one thing's for sure: He's not going to go through it for too much longer, and he's not going to go through it forever."