Bryce Harper’s unusual slump: Few hits, tons of walks

NEW YORK - Bryce Harper doesn’t do most things like most other ballplayers. So it should come as no surprise that even Harper’s slumps aren’t like most slumps.

Harper legitimately is slumping at the plate. Since April 27 (a span of 20 games), he’s batting just .167, which ranks 190th out of 195 qualifying major league hitters.

Now, the catch: In that same timeframe, Harper’s on-base percentage is .477, which ranks third in the big leagues.

Harper-100th-HR-Swing-Sidebar.jpgIt makes for a bit of an odd situation for the Nationals, who while pleased with all the walks Harper is drawing (32 of them in these last 20 games) also recognize he’s not hitting the way they’ve come to expect.

“I really admire Bryce for the patience and stuff that he’s shown,” manager Dusty Baker said. “But a hitter wants to hit, know what I mean? And he’s gotten a few pitches to hit. Not as many as he had in the past. But he’s had a few pitches to hit, where he’s pulled them foul, or fouled them back.”

Harper’s recent slide comes after a torrid start to the season. Over his first 19 games, he hit .328 with a .430 on-base percentage, nine homers and a 1.274 OPS, earning National League Player of the Month honors for April in the process.

But then he went cold for a few days (1-for-17) and then the Cubs decided to walk him at an absurd rate (13 times in a four-day series).

Other managers since haven’t quite matched Joe Maddon’s strategy. Harper has been pitched to, but he still hasn’t inflicted much damage when actually swinging.

The Nationals have managed to hold steady along the way, winning 10 of their last 18 games, and that could actually benefit the club in the long run.

“It puts some of the weight on some of the other guys,” Baker said. “You love to see Bryce hitting, but this isn’t the Bryce Nationals. This is the Washington Nationals. We are a team, and everybody’s getting paid to do a job. Let’s face it: Bryce carried us the first month. And Bryce is going to have some more months where he’s going to carry us. But he can’t carry all the time.”

Ultimately, Baker has one simple bit of advice for both Harper and anyone else paying close attention to this unusual stretch.

“Don’t worry about Bryce,” the manager said. “I just hope Bryce doesn’t worry about Bryce. Because we’re not.”

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