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Slump leaves Harper in battle for batting title

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Slump leaves Harper in battle for batting title

ATLANTA — What looked like close to a sure thing only a few days ago — a batting title for Bryce Harper — is now completely up for grabs over the season's final four days.

Harper has seen his lead over the Marlins' Dee Gordon shrink to a mere two-thousandths of a point during his first legitimate slump of the year. With only three hits in his last 26 at-bats, Harper's batting average has dropped from .343 to .3313. He still clings to the slimmest of leads over Gordon (.3311), but the race is now on through the final days of the season.

Harper had been cruising along, enjoying a dominant 16-game stretch in which he hit .431 with 10 homers and a 1.532 OPS to lock up the NL MVP vote. But beginning with last week's series against the Orioles (the only 3-game set he has failed to record at least one hit in this year) he has taken a big step back.

Harper's only three hits during this stretch all came during Saturday's 12-inning victory over the Phillies, leaving him hitless in seven of his last eight games. He has drawn only two walks in his last five games, lowering his league-leading on-base percentage from .471 to .463.

"Just missing some balls," manager Matt Williams said of Harper's slump. "I think he's fine. Over the course of a season, you're going to have these little peaks and valleys. One swing of the bat tomorrow and he can be right back out of it again. He's had a great season."

Gordon has kept the pressure on this week, going 11 for his last 31, though he went 1-for-5 on Wednesday to lower his average from .332 to .331. The Miami second baseman has played in nine fewer games (141) than Harper (150) but has compiled 88 more at-bats (598 to 510) because of a huge disparity in walks (25 to 124).

Harper is attempting to win only the third batting title in Expos/Nationals franchise history, joining Tim Raines (1986) and Al Oliver (1982). He's trying to become only the fifth batting champion in Washington baseball history, joining two-time winner Mickey Vernon (1946, 1953), Buddy Myer (1935) and Goose Goslin (1928).

"That's definitely something I want to get," Harper said after Tuesday's game. "I think walks will help that. If I can keep drawing walks, doing what I can, if I just keep — not doing what I'm doing right now, because that ain't working — hopefully doing what I've been doing the last couple months and try to get locked back into that."

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With Ross placed on 60-day DL, Nationals agree to 1-year deal with veteran reliever

With Ross placed on 60-day DL, Nationals agree to 1-year deal with veteran reliever

WASHINGTON  -- The Washington Nationals say they have agreed to a one-year deal with 40-year-old reliever Joaquin Benoit.

The team announced the move Wednesday, along with placing pitcher Joe Ross on the 60-day disabled list as he recovers from Tommy John surgery in July.

The Nationals didn't release terms of the agreement, though a person with knowledge of the deal told The Associated Press on Monday that it was for $1 million.

The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the deal wasn't official at the time.

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Benoit is a right-hander who first reached the big leagues in 2001. 

He has played for eight teams, finishing last year with Pittsburgh.

He has 764 career appearances, going 58-49 with a 3.83 ERA and 53 saves.

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

It's 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.

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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.

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