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Harper dealing with first slump


Harper dealing with first slump

When Bryce Harper, following last night's 8-0 trouncing at the hands of the Phillies, described himself as "all over the place right now," he might have been referring to the 0-for-11, five-strikeout skid in which he's currently mired. He might also have been thinking farther back, recognizing his struggles at the plate have been going on much longer than many may realize.

On June 12, Harper went 3-for-4 with a home run in Toronto, a game best remembered for the "clown question" that was asked of the rookie, setting off a worldwide sensation.

Harper has played in 41 games since then, starting all but one, and his offensive numbers are anything but spectacular: He's hitting .214 with two homers, 10 RBI, 42 strikeouts, a .283 on-base percentage and a .592 OPS that if extrapolated out over the full season would rank 148th out of 151 qualifying major-league hitters.

"I'm trying to find some mellowness in the plate and in the box," Harper said last night in his latest attempt to usher a funny-sounding phrase into the lexicon. "Just trying to work at it every day and try to take something good from every at-bat and take something good from every game."

Is Harper trying to force things, trying too hard to get himself going again?

"I don't think I'm trying to do too much at all," he said. "I'm trying to keep my strikeouts down and my walks up. That's the biggest thing. Trying to square some stuff up and try to have good ABs and try to battle."

Harper is doing a a reasonably good job battling at the plate. He's still seeing 3.8 pitches per plate appearance, which among Nationals regulars ranks only behind Adam LaRoche (4.1) and Ryan Zimmerman (3.9). And his 10.1 percent walk rate ranks below only LaRoche (11.1 percent).

But he does seem to be expanding his strike zone more these days, chasing breaking balls down and away from left-handers in particular. There was a point in June in which Harper was hitting a stunning .375 against lefties; he's now hitting .246.

In his defense, a lot has been asked of Harper, who at 19 has been one of the few mainstays in a lineup decimated by injuries.

We also have to remember that he is indeed 19, and still producing more than just about any teenager who has ever reached the big leagues. His current .756 OPS ranks sixth among all 19-year-olds with at least 350 plate appearances, better than Ty Cobb, Ken Griffey Jr., Robin Yount and Al Kaline.

But for perhaps the first time in his life, Harper is experiencing a prolonged slump. It's just one more important hurdle to cross for any rookie.

"You just try to battle as best you can and not worry about what's going on around you," he said. "As long as you go up there and try and stay within yourself and battle as best you can, good things will happen."

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This year's Nationals roster is stacked with glorious facial hair

This year's Nationals roster is stacked with glorious facial hair

The following is a list of things the 2017 Washington Nationals appear to have: A talented outfield led by Bryce Harper and Adam Eaton. A rising superstar at shortstop in Trea Turner. A possibly major hole at closer.

The following is a list of things the 2017 Washington Nationals appear to not have: Razors. Shaving cream. A desire to groom their faces.

A fun tradition at each team's spring training is the annual photo day, because photo day forces professional athletes to pose in front of cameras like they're being featured in the poster of an upcoming blockbuster movie. And after poring through the snapshots from the Nationals' photo day, a single trend emerged.

This year's team is a hairy bunch.

Among that bunch are the usual suspects, such as Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon and Jayson Werth:

But there are some surprises, most notably of which is Stephen Strasburg. The right-hander tends to keep his mug 100-percent clean-shaven, but for now, at least, he's allowed his face to become quite fertile:

Then there's newcomer Adam Lind, who has a goatee that Duke's Blue Devil logo would be forced to respect:

Shawn Kelley, meanwhile, who's pictured below, has a beard that looks like...

...Derek Norris' beard, before Derek Norris' beard hit puberty and grew up to be the strong, mature beard it is today:

There are scraggly ones, such as Daniel Murphy's:

And fuller, more complete ones, like Eaton's (full marks, by the way, for the trade acquisition's ability to seamlessly connect 'stache to beard):

The most wild photo of all, however, was this one of Turner. Is this the Nats stud, or a picture of Leonard DiCaprio from a scene in The Revenant? Hard to tell with all that stubble the infielder's cultivating:

One potential positive of this team-wide movement: If Turner and his teammates keep what they're growing down in Florida going throughout the season, their faces will be plenty warm by the time playoff baseball comes around. 


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Nationals' Bryce Harper mashes monster homer on second pitch of spring training

Nationals' Bryce Harper mashes monster homer on second pitch of spring training

The Nationals played their first game of spring training today against the Mets. They won, but that's not nearly the biggest story of the day. It was Bryce Harper's first at-bat that stole the show. 

On just the second pitch he saw of spring training, from lefty Sean Gilmartin, Harper mashed a ginormous home run to right center field. MLB.com shared video of the bomb. 

According to Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post, Harper smacked the ball at least 400 feet. In his second at-bat, he hit a line-drive single on the first pitch. 

Let's just say it was an exciting start to the year for Harper, who won the 2015 NL MVP only to endure a let-down last season. As Castillo points out, the slugger hit .226 against left-handed pitchers in 2016. 

Harper enters spring training at 230 pounds, up 15 pounds of muscle from last year. 

“I just felt going into the offseason you want to get as strong as you can, try to maintain your weight the best you can and just do everything the right way,” he told the Post. 

MORE NATIONALS: Baker thinks DC sports teams can win a championship this year