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After tough 2016, Bryce Harper looks dominant in spring training

After tough 2016, Bryce Harper looks dominant in spring training

WEST PALM BEACH , Fla. — Nationals manager Dusty Baker discerns a difference in Bryce Harper at the plate this spring compared with the guy who struggled mightily for much of last season.

It's not his current home run binge -- that's simply a byproduct of Harper's success, and a pleasant one at that.

"He's not missing pitches," Baker said. "The last couple days, he's not missing pitches and he's not fouling balls off. When you're not doing well, a lot of times you're fouling balls off that you should putting play, whether it's a line-drive home run or a popup or something."

Harper had homered in three straight games for Washington before going 0 for 1 against Detroit on Monday. Five of his eight spring hits have been homers and he's added a double for good measure.

Harper also drew a four-pitch walk from Tigers ace Justin Verlander in a 3-3, 10-inning tie. The four-time All-Star outfielder is hitting .313 in exhibition play and began the day tied with San Diego's Jabari Blash for the spring training lead in home runs.

"He looks good. He looks real good," Baker said.

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Harper only hit two homers last spring after winning the 2015 NL MVP award. Once he left Florida, though, Harper turned it on, swatting nine homers by the end of April while hitting .286.

"Without Bryce last year, there's no way we'd have gotten off to the start that we had last year," Baker said.

That surge didn't last. Harper never hit more than four homers in any given month the remainder of the way and only mashed five after the All-Star break. His .226 average in the second half dropped Harper's season average to .243, easily the lowest of his five-year major league career. He finished with 24 homers and 86 RBIs for the NL East champions.

The previous season, Harper hit .330 with 42 home runs and 99 RBIs.

Harper's futility fueled speculation that he was playing through an injury, but he maintained publicly that there was nothing physically wrong with him.

"To me, he was (swinging) underneath and missing a lot of balls, fouling them off," Baker said.

Teammates are hoping that Harper's spring foreshadows a resurgence at the plate.

"As far as health-wise, the way his body looks -- and I think that's the most important thing -- he looks great," first baseman Ryan Zimmerman said.

A strong spring often indicates the return of much-needed confidence for a player coming off a down year.

That might not be the case for Harper.

"Confidence ain't his problem," Baker said. "Confidence might be some other guys' problems, but I think he was probably born confident."

MORE NATS: Washington signs John Lannan to minor league deal

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On this date: The Nationals played their first game ever

On this date: The Nationals played their first game ever

It seems like eons ago that the Washington Nationals played in their first game after departing from Montreal.

Saturday marks the 15th anniversary of their inaugural game as they brought professional baseball back to the District of Columbia.

The Nationals opened up the 2005 season on the road at Citizens Bank Park with a matchup against their future rival in the Phillies.

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The game didn't go as planned for Nats manager Frank Robinson, with his squad dropping the first game of their 162-game slate with a defeat, but it was a return to normalcy for baseball fans in the nation's capital who had longed for a team to root for since the Senators left town 34 years prior.

The Phillies beat the Nats 8-4 on Opening Day, but for fans in the District, there was now a team to cheer on when they returned home a few days later for the home opener at RFK Stadium.

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Nats GM Mike Rizzo displays Commissioner's Trophy in neighborhood during quarantine

Nats GM Mike Rizzo displays Commissioner's Trophy in neighborhood during quarantine

Now this is the type of content we love to see. 

Nationals GM Mike Rizzo found a pretty cool yet responsible way to bring some cheer to his neighborhood in the midst of social distancing on Thursday. 

On the day that should have been the Nats’ 2020 home opener Washington’s GM Mike Rizzo displayed the World Series trophy in the window of his home in Navy Yard.

According to The Washington Post’s reporter Barry Svrluga, Rizzo’s gesture was “in honor of Opening Day!” 

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Of course, fans loved this idea. I mean who wouldn’t? 

Fans passing by even stopped to take a picture with the trophy. 

Although we were all thrilled to return to Nationals Park to celebrate the defending World Champions, Rizzo’s trophy display was a way to spread some joy until we can reunite again. 

On a recent conference call Rizzo told reporters, “This is going to be a very, very special Opening Day for us when it happens, so we still have that to look forward to... On the brighter side, the glass half full view is that we’re the reigning world champions and we still are clutching hard to that trophy. We’ve got ourselves a banner-raising ceremony coming, we’ve got ourselves some beautiful rings that we’re going to be able to wear around D.C. in the very near future, so although we’re thinking daily and hourly about the humanity of what’s going on right now, we also have that to look forward to when we get through this thing and we come out the other side and baseball begins again.”

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