Round two wasn’t so kind to Bryce Harper.
We all remember round one, of course. In Harper’s first return to Nationals Park, coming in in just the second series of the season, the slugging outfielder dealt a knockout punch to the Nationals.
After striking out twice against Max Scherzer, Harper recorded three hits in that first game, capping the 8-2 Phillies win with a blast to the upper deck, which he followed with an epic bat flip directly at the Nationals dugout.
Since then, however, the Phillies are winless in Washington. The Nats split that two-game set in April, and just wrapped up a rain-shortened three-game home sweep Thursday night.
This week’s series, in particular, has been a struggle for Harper. He did walk four times, including twice against a black-eyed Max Scherzer, but the outfielder recorded just a single hit in the three-game set. He also struck out three times, highlighted by an ugly swing on a Javy Guerra breaking ball in the dirt.
Phillies manager Gabe Kapler summed it up succinctly when describing these at-bats from Harper: “It’s difficult to be patient in times when we're not playing good baseball.”
Even when he reached base, Harper never looked comfortable. He made multiple outs on the basepaths this series, including inning-enders at both third base and home plate.
Harper also continued to establish his disinterest in making (or keeping) fans in Washington.
During Thursday’s series finale, Harper ended an inning by catching a flyball in right field. He turned to the fans sitting near him, took the ball out of his glove, and looked around as if ready to provide a souvenir to one lucky fan.
Instead, it was a fake out. Harper kept the ball and jogged back to the dugout. Needless to say, fans were all too happy to voice their displeasure.
To be fair to Harper, he’s not the first player to mess with opposing fans. Though, in most cases, it’s not a fanbase that previously spent more than half a decade passionately supporting said player.
And he did relinquish the ball eventually, tossing it to a Phillies fan sitting near the third base dugout. Again in his defense, fans were already booing him, even before pretending to give away a ball.
But overall, it was just the latest tough series in a debut season full of them for Harper. A .243 batting average to go with an OPS of .809 isn’t what anybody in Philadelphia had in mind for his first two-plus months. His walk rate is way down and his strikeout rate is way up, and in the most home run-friendly environment in years, he’s hit just 12 long balls.
It’s not quite a terrible year, but it certainly hasn’t been great, either. If he’s going to enjoy a successful 13 years in the City of Brotherly Love, he’s eventually going to have to hit much better against his former team.
While he’s struggling, though, the Nationals are certainly happy to take advantage. The fans are, too.
After another long night for Harper, he came to the plate against Sean Doolittle with one out in the ninth inning. Fans booed him mercilessly, and then he struck out for the third time. It was like This Is Spinal Tap, and the volume had been turned up to 11.
In what, from the outside, seems like a tiring season for Harper already, it’s hard to imagine Nationals fans ever getting tired of letting their former star know exactly where he stands in their eyes.
Series like this one just give them a little extra ammo to work with.
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