No dull moment with Harper

Published 12:47 am Friday, May 22, 2015

WASHINGTON (AP) — There’s rarely a dull moment when it comes to Bryce Harper.

Been that way pretty much ever since the Washington Nationals brought him to the majors at age 19.

He’ll hit six home runs in a span of three games. He’ll get ejected twice in the span of seven games. He’ll earn NL Player of the Week honors, repeat that feat a week later — and when asked about the rare accomplishment, declare, “Hopefully I win it again.”

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That’s just what’s happened this month for Washington’s right fielder.

Entering Thursday, an off day for the Nationals, Harper led the majors in slugging percentage (.732), on-base percentage (.472), runs (37) and walks (37), was tied for the most RBIs (38), and was second in homers (15). His batting average of .333 was tied for third-best in the NL.

“It’s hard for a young kid that’s got the weight of the world on his shoulders to produce at this level. This year we’re starting to see him kind of take a deep breath and let his talent take over,” said Ryan Zimmerman, who bats behind cleanup hitter Harper.

Entering this season, Harper’s fourth in the majors, Zimmerman and other Nationals discussed the progress they were expecting.

“It was time for him to be that guy that he can be,” Zimmerman said. “There’s still a long way to go, but we’re starting to see that he’s taken that step. You’ve got to give him a lot of credit. He went through a lot of learning, a lot of tough lessons. Shows you what kind of player he is.”

Still yet to face a pitcher younger than he is in the majors, Harper often has been appreciated through the prism of how greats of the past fared when they were his age.

The way Harper is hitting, he’s establishing himself as a top player, no matter how old.

“A lot of people say ‘22-year-old kid.’ But he’s a 22-year-old man,” second baseman Dan Uggla said. “I’ve enjoyed watching him do his thing and get his work in and come to the field — and be himself. He has a lot of fire in him. Everyone goes through growing pains at some point in time or another. … I’m sure he’s gone through his fair share.”

Harper was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated at 16, was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 amateur draft at 17, won 2012 NL Rookie of the Year honors and already is a two-time All-Star.

“Everybody that’s known him has been waiting for this,” said Yankees reliever Chasen Shreve, who’s known Harper since both were high schoolers in Nevada.

Harper draws outsized amounts of attention, whether for the way he flips his mass of hair after a big hit or the way he talks about his team’s talent (”Where’s my ring?”).

After getting ejected from Washington’s 3-2 victory over the New York Yankees on Wednesday, Harper was asked whether that level of scrutiny extends to the way umpires treat him.

“I really have no idea,” he replied.

A week earlier, he was tossed in the seventh inning of a win at Arizona.

Wednesday’s early departure came following a 12-game stretch in which Harper batted .535 with 10 homers and 23 RBIs, part of why Washington has gone 17-4 to move atop the NL East.

“I’m just trying to see it and hit it,” Harper said.

So let others explain what he’s doing.

“There’s really no effective way to get him out,” Nationals closer Drew Storen said.

“The other day, early in the count, he swung through a high heater. Then the (pitcher) went back to the well, trying to get him on it later, and he laid off it. And that makes a pitcher think, ‘Um. OK. Well, now what?”’ Storen said. “So he’s making adjustments pitch to pitch to pitch — not just from at-bat to at-bat, or even game to game — that you see veteran guys do.”

Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth has been something of a mentor to Harper.

“He just feels comfortable in his own skin. … He’s shown glimpses and spurts over the years, it’s just he’s putting it together now,” Werth said, then added with a smile: “I keep telling him: In 10 years, he’s going to be a really good player.”


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