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Nats Stock Watch: What's wrong with Bryce Harper?

Nats Stock Watch: What's wrong with Bryce Harper?

Each week this season, we’ll take the temperature of the Nationals roster to see which player's stock is rising or falling.  

Record: 4-3

Team slash: .221/.275/.385

Team ERA: 2.44

Runs per game: 3.57

 

STOCK UP  

Daniel Murphy, 2B: .333 AVG, 5 RBI, .889 OPS

So it's been a month now, and Murphy has shown no signs of slowing down yet. Is this just who he is? Time will tell, but the longer his hot streak keeps going, the more inclined the Nats are to believe this might be the real deal. If so, they might have gotten one of the best bargains of the offseason. 

Murphy now leads the team with a 1.044 OPS on the season, and is second only to Bryce Harper with 15 extra-base hits. Ever since he changed his approach late last year with the Mets — crowding the plate more and focusing on pulling the ball rather than going the other way — it seems he's become a different hitter, and one opposing pitchers have had a tough time adjusting to. Can he really keep this up?

Max Scherzer, SP: 1-0, 0 ER, 9 K, 0 BB

Now that's the Max Scherzer Nats fans remember. After scuffling in a few of his previous starts, Washington's ace looked like himself against the Cardinals, tossing seven shutout frames while striking out nine batters and walking none. With the rest of the rotation in a groove right now, Scherzer picked a good time to find his early-2015 form. 

STOCK DOWN 

Bryce Harper, RF: .077 AVG, 13 K, .277 OPS

After winning NL Player of the Month for a spectactular April, who'd have thought Harper would find himself listed here in the first week of May? That's baseball, and it shows that even the best players in the game aren't immune to a slump or two. That said, Harper's mired in the type of funk we haven't seen from him in quite some time: He has just one hit in his last 23 at-bats, has struck out 13 times in the last week alone compared to four walks. And in the last nine games, his batting average has fallen from .323 to .256. Ouch.

Harper will start hitting again, probably sooner rather than later. But with the rest of the lineup starting to get on track, it'd be nice to see what this offense could be if he starts looking like the reigning MVP. 

Jonathan Papelbon, RP: 0-1, BS, 2.18 WHIP

Papelbon blew his second save of the young season Tuesday night in Kansas City, a frightening sight for Nats fans who are worried their closer may not be reliable. The 35-year-old reliever is still 9-of-11 in save opportunities, and while that's the most important metric, there are a few other things to consider.

The phrase du jour about Papelbon these days is how he's "not missing bats" the way he did earlier in his career. That's true; per Fangraphs, his induced swing-and-miss percentage this season is at 8.3, down from 12.4 in 2015. One of the probable reasons for the decline is because his average fastball velocity has steadily fallen from 94.8 mph in 2011 to 90.8 this year. As a result, his strikeout numbers down, making him eminently more hittable. He's allowed base runners eight of his 13 outings, so even when he does earn a save, he usually doesn't pitch a clean inning. 

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Its Day 1 of spring training and Bryce Harper is already done taking questions regarding his future

Its Day 1 of spring training and Bryce Harper is already done taking questions regarding his future

So if you have not heard, Bryce Harper is going to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2018 season.

All off-season talking heads, baseball aficionados, radio hosts, etc. were speculating on where the outfielder’s destination will be next year.

And we are still a year away from it actually happening.

RELATED: VEGAS SETS OVER/UNDERS FOR 2018 MLB SEASON

Reporting to spring training on Monday, Harper did not waste any time telling the media how his press conferences were going to play out this season.

“If guys do [ask], or talk anything about that, I will be walking right out the door.”

Entering his seventh season with the Washington Nationals, the 25-year-old is coming off the second-best season, statistically, of his career. The 2015 NL MVP has hit .285 in his career, with 150 home runs and 421 RBIs. Unquestionably he is the face of the Nationals’ organization, if not, the best player in the team’s history.

If he does end the season without a contract extension, he will join Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, and Barry Bonds as the top sought out free agents in MLB history.

One thing is for certain in terms of Harper’s free agency; Harper has given no inclination on where his landing spot will be.  The top three cities are of course his favorite childhood team, the New York Yankees; joining with one of his closest friends with the Chicago Cubs; or just staying with Washington.

Wherever he does land, it does appear that it will be the largest contract given to a free agent ever.

As for now we just wait and direct any of your calls to his agent Scott Boras.

READ ALSO: NATIONALS FULL SPRING TRAINING SCHEDULE

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Nationals Spring Training Schedule 2018

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USA Today Sports Images

Nationals Spring Training Schedule 2018

Now that pitchers and catchers have reported, the next step in our long journey to Opening Day is the spring training games themselves. Not every game is televised, so get ready to follow along with your favorite beat writer's Twitter account for all your updates.

Even without getting to watch the games, it'll still be exciting to once again check box scores in the morning to see if Bryce Harper homered again, or if Max Scherzer is perfect through 4 innings (spoiler: both of these will happen).

This year's spring training will be especially interesting, considering how many big-name players will be signing contracts in the next few weeks. The Nats are always willing to make a big splash, and even beyond the available free agents, have been linked to impact players like J.T. Realmuto in trade rumors.

Typically, the excitement of adding a new piece to the roster has to be reignited after a long winter off, but this season, those additions will be happening while camp is already underway.

It's going to be a hectic few weeks as teams prepare for their seasons, so bookmark this page to check on the Nationals spring training schedule over the next few weeks as the team finally takes the field in 2018.

Nationals 2018 Spring Training Schedule

Friday, Feb. 23 - Nationals at Astros, 1:05 pm (MLBN)
Saturday, Feb. 24 - Nationals at Marlins, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Feb. 25 - Braves at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Monday, Feb. 26 - Nationals at Braves, 1:05 pm
Tuesday, Feb. 27 - Marlins at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Wednesday, Feb. 28 - Nationals at Marlins, 1:05 pm
Thursday, Mar. 1 (SS) - Nationals at Braves, 1:05 pm
Friday, Mar. 2 (SS) - Nationals at Mets, 1:10 pm
Saturday, Mar. 3 - Nationals at Astros, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 4 (SS) - Tigers at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 4 (SS) - Nationals at Mets, 1:10 pm
Monday, Mar. 5 - Nationals at Cardinals, 1:05 pm
Tuesday, Mar. 6 (SS) - Astros at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Wednesday, Mar. 7 - Nationals at Cardinals, 1:05 pm
Thursday, Mar. 8 - Mets at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Saturday, Mar. 10 - Nationals at Astros, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 11 - Cardinals at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Monday, Mar. 12 - Nationals at Tigers, 1:05 pm (MLBN)
Tuesday, Mar. 13 (SS) - Mets at Nationals, 7:05 pm (MLBN) (MASN)
Thursday, Mar. 15 - Astros at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Friday, Mar. 16 (SS) - Cardinals at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Saturday, Mar. 17 - Mets at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 18 - Nationals at Cardinals, 1:05 pm
Monday, Mar. 19 - Nationals at Marlins, 1:05 pm
Tuesday, Mar. 20 - Marlins at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Wednesday, Mar. 21 - Astros at Nationals, 1:05 pm (ESPN2) (MASN)
Thursday, Mar. 22 - Nationals at Mets, 6:10 pm
Friday, Mar. 23 (SS) - Astros at Nationals, 6:05 pm (MASN)
Friday, Mar. 23 - Nationals at Marlins, 7:05 pm
Saturday, Mar. 24 - Marlins at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 25 - Cardinals at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MLBN)
Tuesday, Mar. 27 (at Nationals Park) - Twins at Nationals, 4:05 pm