It was the Sunday before the Sunday before the All-Star Game, and the Washington Nationals were holding a news conference. On a podium deep within the bowels of Nationals Park, the three players who were voted into the Midsummer Classic sat behind a long table and fielded questions from reporters.
On the right was Max Scherzer, the two-time defending Cy Young winner whose dominant first half makes him a favorite to be the starting pitcher for the National League in front of his hometown fans. On the left was Sean Doolittle, the bearded southpaw who hasn’t walked anybody in three months and has been as good as any closer in the game. In between Scherzer and Doolittle, in the chair that was literally the center of attention, sat Bryce Harper.
Given the year that Harper is having so far, he had no earthly business being the man in the middle. Relative to Scherzer and Doolittle, he is Washington’s least deserving All-Star, and it’s not particularly close. nfl nike jerseys for cheap Yet there he sat, the clear focal point in a roomful of lenses and microphones and eyeballs. This was, after all, supposed to be Bryce Harper’s All-Star Game.
He’s also making himself a lot of outs. Even though averages across the league are down thanks to a variety of reasons (homer-happy hitters, shift-happy defenses, velo-happy hurlers), Harper’s average has plummeted to unforeseeable depths. At the time the All-Star results were announced Sunday, his .218 average ranked 78th out of 81 qualified National Leaguers. He led the National League in walks and was third in homers, but he was on pace for 164 strikeouts, a number that would shatter his previous career high. It was a startling downturn for a superstar who hit .319 last year, before an August knee injury derailed an outstanding season that had thrust him firmly into the MVP conversation again. Unlike in 2016, when reports of a lingering shoulder issue surfaced and perhaps helped explain why he struggled to repeat his historic 2015 performance, Harper seems physically whole this season. As for the psychological piece, that’s not so clear.
On the surface, Harper appears to be holding it together. Despite suffering through a massive slump that started in mid-April and only recently showed signs of letting up, he has been cordial when talking to members of the media. He has been atypically restrained toward umpires and has yet to be tossed from a game, a sign of maturity that, if it holds, would result in his first ejection-free season since 2014. Said hitting coach Kevin Long: “He’s really in a good frame of mind.” That isn’t to say the slump hasn’t taken its toll.
“Is he frustrated? Sure,” Long said. “Does he want to do better? Sure. Is this pissing him off a little bit? Yeah. What human being wouldn’t it? This is what you do for a living, and you’re arguably the best hitter on the planet.“cheap nfl jerseys china nike
Over the past few months, however, it seems as though what Harper cares most about is being the best home run hitter on the planet.
Before a May contest against the Pirates, the Nats slugger took early batting practice, then proceeded to go deep for the first time in more than two weeks. Afterward, when asked what the purpose of his early BP session was, Harper said: “Just hit some homers … I was trying to hit the ball as far as I could.” A few days later, following a two-jack game against the Phillies that included a 473-foot bomb to dead center, he weighed in with, “It’s not how far. It’s how many.” Over Memorial Day weekend, when he went yard against Miami but finished the series with a then season-low .230 average, he rationalized it like this: “If I hit .230, and I hit 40, I’ll take it any day of the week.”