WASHINGTON — Bryce Harper looked like he didn’t want to let go — holding on tight to his bat as he watched Kyle Barra clough’s 84-mph slider fade deep into the night. It was the seventh inning in Friday night’s 5-3 win over the Marlins, and Harper had managed only two at-bats, courtesy of the Barry Bonds treatment. His first was a single, and his second was what the Marlins were so afraid of: a two-run shot that broke a tie at 2.
Harper tracked it as it landed into the rightfield seats, holding on to his bat for two beats before beginning his trot.
No wonder why. It seems like everyone is keen on taking the bat out of the hands of the National League MVP. Though Daniel Murphy and his .403 average is batting behind him for the moment, Harper was walked twice Friday and three more times in Game 1 of the split doubleheader Saturday. (He did not play in Game 2.) Somewhat laughably, in a four-game series against the Cubs last week, Harper was walked 13 times and had only four at-bats. Laughable, except it worked: He went 1-for-4 and the Cubs swept.
“You try to stay within yourself and think that every pitch is a strike,” said Harper, who’s hitting .273. “You’ve just got to think to yourself that you’re swinging every single time and not get lazy.”
And the move may backfire, since it certainly seems like the Nationals are adapting. On Friday, their bit players did the clubbing: Stephen Drew (remember him?) hit a two-run blast to tie the game at 2 in the bottom of the sixth after Oliver Perez (remember him?!) induced an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded in the bottom of the frame.
On Saturday, Michael A. Taylor and Anthony Rendon did more damage (4-for-7 with three runs and one RBI) at the top of the order in Game 1 than Harper, Murphy and Ryan Zimmerman (1-for-9 with two RBIs and a run).
Manager Dusty Baker put it into perspective in a way that would probably chill Nationals opponents.
“One day, our offense is really going to start clicking,” he said. “In the meantime, we’re winning games.”
The Nationals are 23-14 after splitting their doubleheader, and play one more game Sunday before a monumental test: facing the Mets. The Mets haven’t tipped their hand on how they’ll deal with the Nationals studs, since, if you haven’t heard, they’ve got a few studs of their own in the rotation.
But if they’re up for the challenge, Harper is ready.
“I don’t want to get surprised by a pitch down the middle,” he said. “I just want to try to do some damage.”
That’s what everyone’s afraid of.