Harper heating up again

Harper heating up again

You know that prolonged slump Bryce Harper has been in for months now, the one that turned his much-ballyhooed rookie season into nothing more than a pedestrian campaign?

This just in: The kid is heating up again, and last night's two-homer performance during the Nationals' 8-4 victory in Miami was only the latest example.

Yep, over his last 11 games, Harper is hitting .293, slugging .610 and posting a .920 OPS that has suddenly turned him into a formidable threat at the plate again.

Sure, there have been some less-than-spectacular performances during that span. His golden sombrero last week against the Braves was certainly a low point. But as he displayed last night, Harper is always a threat to do something significant when he steps to the plate with bat in hand.

He's also a threat to do something that rubs someone the wrong way. That someone last night was first base umpire C.B. Bucknor, who ejected Harper after he threw his helmet to the ground upon hitting into a double play in the top of the ninth.

(By the way, was that the first-ever example of the Bryce Harper Hat Trick: two homers and an ejection? Or should that honor need to include one homer, one outfield assist and one ejection?)

Was Bucknor justified in giving the Harper the heave-ho? He didn't appear to be, unless the player said something directed at the umpire. It looked like Harper merely was upset at himself for grounding into that double play and spiked his helmet out of frustration, not a reaction to anything Bucknor did or said.

At the same time, Harper knows by now he's not being judged like any other rookie in the big leagues. His reputation precedes him, fair or unfair, and he's probably being held to a higher standard than anyone else in the sport.

It's unfortunate, but it's reality. And the sooner Harper accepts that, the better off he and the Nationals will be.

Look, he may go through slumps at the plate. But he's still doing things few 19-year-olds have ever done in this sport. The only teenagers ever to hit more than Harper's 14 home runs: Tony Conigliaro (24), Mel Ott (18) and Ken Griffey Jr. (16). He's scored more runs (69) than any teenager since 1940 and legged out more triples (six) than any since 1936.

Harper has made significant contributions to a Nationals club that has sat in first place nearly every day since he arrived, and this team is going to continue to need his contributions down the stretch.

If he can keep driving the ball the way he has over the last two weeks, and if he can keep his emotions in check, Harper will wind up playing as big a role on a pennant contender as any teenager since Mickey Mantle with the 1951 Yankees.

That's no small feat.

Bryce Harper hopes to play Tuesday after injury scare against Phillies

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Bryce Harper hopes to play Tuesday after injury scare against Phillies

Here is the update from the Associated Press on Bryce Harper's injury after the right fielder left Monday's Nationals win over the Phillies:

Bryce Harper left the game shortly after taking a fastball off the outside part of his right knee in the seventh. The reigning NL MVP went to first base, got doubled off on Murphy's fly out to left and was replaced by Chris Heisey in right field in the bottom half.

"It hurts," Harper said. "Whenever you get squared up like that, it doesn't feel good. We'll evaluate tomorrow and see how it feels. If I don't feel good, I'm not going to play. If I feel fine, then I'll be in there."

Murphy homers, lands go-ahead hit in Nats' 4-3 win vs. Phillies

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Murphy homers, lands go-ahead hit in Nats' 4-3 win vs. Phillies

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 4-3 win over the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on Monday night.

How it happened: Right now, two months into the 2016 MLB season, is there any other player you'd rather have up in a key spot than Daniel Murphy?

The Nats second baseman continued his months-long Ted Williams impression on Monday night with three hits, one of them his eighth homer of the season and another the go-ahead swing in the bottom of the eighth in a 4-3 Nats victory over the Phillies. 

On a night Bryce Harper left with an injury, Murphy helped save the day with three runs driven in. The other was pushed across by Jayson Werth, who tied the game at 2-2 in the eighth to help set up Murphy's heroics. 

The Nationals hung on in the ninth, but closer Jonathan Papelbon made it interesting by allowing back-to-back doubles to lead off the frame, the second to score a run. Papelbon has surrendered six earned runs in 5 2/3 innings with two blown saves against the Phillies since he was traded from them to the Nats last summer.

Tanner Roark pitched seven solid innings with two earned runs allowed. He earned his fourth win of the season.

What it means: The Nationals moved to 10 games over .500 and 3-4 against the Phillies this season, all three of those wins having come at Citizens Bank Park. The Nats remain in first place with a 31-21 record after 52 games. That puts them two wins ahead of their 2015 pace (29-23 after 52). In 2014 when they won 96 games and the NL East, they were 25-27. And in 2012 when they won 98 games and the division, they were 30-22. The Nats are playing at a 97-win pace right now.

Murphy's big day: Who is this guy? As impressive as Murphy's 2016 had already been, he put in one of his best games as a National on Tuesday. Murphy smacked his eighth homer of the season in the top of the fourth which put him more than halfway to his career-high of 14, which he set just last year. This is in just 50 games, which puts Murphy on pace for about 25 by the end of this season. That would not only far exceed his best season ever, it would significantly change his value as an offensive player. Murphy has six homers in the month of May, a personal career-best for the regular season. The only other month he's hit more was last October when he clubbed seven for the Mets in the playoffs. Murphy also landed a double in the second inning on Monday to notch his 25th mutli-hit game of the season, exactly half of the game he's played. This was all on top of his go-ahead, two-RBI single in the top of the eighth. Murphy is now batting a cool .395 and we're one day away from June. That's just amazing.

Harper leaves with apparent injury: In a sight that will scare the living hell out of any Nationals fan, Harper left in the top of the seventh with what appeared to be a right leg injury. He exited after taking an 88 mile per hour fastball either off his knee or off his thigh muscle right above it. Harper stayed in the game for one play by taking first, but left after getting out on a double play. Murphy flew out and Phillies outfielder Tyler Goeddel beat Harper with a throw to first before he got back. Chris Heisey replaced Harper in right field in the bottom of the seventh. It could be just a bruise, but Nats fans will certainly worry until they hear otherwise.

Werth's game-tying double: Aside from Murphy's three knocks, Werth was one of only two other Nationals to land a hit on Monday night. For Werth, it was a single to left field that scored Danny Espinosa from second in the top of the eighth. The RBI hit came off Phillies reliever Hector Neris, who also gave up the deciding blow against Murphy. Werth's big swing came just one day after he launched a pinch-hit grand slam in the Nats' win over the Cardinals on Sunday. 

Up next: The Nationals send Joe Ross (4-4, 2.52) to the mound for Tuesday's game with right-hander Aaron Nola (4-3, 2.86) set to pitch for Philly. It's another 7:05 p.m. first pitch.

Bryce Harper exits Nats-Phillies game with apparent leg injury

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Bryce Harper exits Nats-Phillies game with apparent leg injury

Bryce Harper exited Monday night's game between the Nationals and Phillies with an apparent right leg injury after getting hit by an 88 mile per hour fastball in the area of his knee in the top of the seventh inning.

Phillies pitcher Jeremy Hellickson hit Harper either on the knee or just above it, based on the television replay. Harper took first base and stayed in through the next at-bat. But after he got out on a double play, Harper left for the clubhouse. He was then replaced by Chris Heisey in right field when the Nationals went back out on defense.

Harper walked with a visible limp on his way to first base after getting hit. Hellickson immediately challenged him with several pickoff attempts before he got Daniel Murphy to fly out. Phillies outfielder Tyler Goeddel threw to first base before Harper could tag the bag for the double play.

Harper has dealt with a left knee injury in the past, but it was his right knee that appeared to be injured on Monday night.

Harper, 23, is batting .242 with 13 homers and 34 RBI on the season. He was 0-for-2 with a strikeout on Monday night before he left the game.