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Nats Stock Watch: Bryce Harper slowly returning to form?

Nats Stock Watch: Bryce Harper slowly returning to form?

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

Record: 3-4

Team slash: .249/.299/.422

Team ERA: 4.65

Runs per game: 4.14

 

STOCK UP 

Bryce Harper, RF:  2 HR, 5 RBI, .500 SLG

Though he hasn't played up to his usual standards, there have been recent signs that Harper is slowly but surely hitting his way out of a month-and-a-half slump. For the first part of June, he'd been making solid contact more often, was often settling for singles. However, on the Nats' current west coast swing, he's rediscovered his power stroke, notching a pair of opposite-field homers in a six-game span. He's hitting .294 in June with 9 RBI — nothing close to his blistering April, but enough to provide hope that a breakout month could be on the horizon. 

Michael Taylor, OF: .444 AVG, 2 HR, 1.389 OPS

Perhaps competition has brought out the best in Taylor. After being relegated to the bench after Ben Revere returned from injury in May, the 25-year-old centerfielder has responded with solid performances almost each time he's been called upon. In fact, Taylor's done so well lately — he's hitting .348 in June— that Dusty Baker has had no choice but to put the righty bat in the lineup nearly every game the Nats face off against a left-handed starter. Of course, one could surmise that Baker is merely playing the best matchups, but the prevailing thought in spring training was that Revere was acquired from the Blue Jays to be the everyday centerfielder. So if Taylor does enough change those plans and earn platoon status, that would be an accomplishment in and of itself. 

STOCK DOWN

Gio Gonzalez, SP: 0-1, 5 ER, 4 BB

Wasn't it just a month ago that Gonzalez was in the midst of a career renaissance? It sure felt like it, as he raced out to a 3-1 start with a 1.86 ERA over his first eight outings. 

Unfortunately for the Nats' rotation, Gonzalez has suddenly reverted to his 2015 form and hasn't been able to snap out of it. He's lost five out of his last six starts, posting a 7.60 ERA over 34 1/3 innings. And as is usually the case when he's struggling, Gonzalez has had trouble with command and pitch efficiency; he's registered four walks in three of his last six appearances. 

For the most part, the back-end of the rotation has done well behind the dynamic duo of Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. But if Gonzalez continues to struggle, it's fair to wonder if there's going to be clamoring among Nats fans to see top prospect Lucas Giolito sometime soon. 

Felipe Rivero, RP: 0-1, 3.1 IP, 6 ER

After Saturday's eighth-inning meltdown in San Diego, it's fair to ask what Rivero's future in the Nats bullpen might be. The club hoped that by now the hard-throwing lefty would have developed into a key late-inning option, but instead he's 0-3 with a team-high 6.61 ERA. What makes matters worse is how in-flux the rest of the relief corps is; Jonathan Papelbon is out indefinitely with an intercostal strain, and even if Shawn Kelley is effective in his absence, Baker has said he wants to be careful not to overuse him. So in addition to figuring out the issue at closer, it's up to the Nats' skipper to figure out who can take the load off his struggling setup man. 

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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