Bryce Harper excelling after weekend 'controversy'

Bryce Harper excelling after weekend 'controversy'
July 7, 2013, 9:00 pm
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Perhaps Davey Johnson should talk about resting Bryce Harper all the time.

For the second straight game, after the threat of rest from his manager became part of the Nationals conversation, Harper performed in numerous ways no skipper would scoff at.

In the first inning of what eventually became an 11-7 home victory, RBI single. Next time up, an infield hit that loaded the bases, setting up Ryan Zimmerman to clear them with a grand slam during a six-run third inning. In the fifth, Harper's walk and stolen base, his second of the game, started a four-run inning. Another single came in the sixth.

Combined with his performance on Saturday, the newly minted All-Star is 4 for 6 with four RBI, two stolen bases, a pair of walks and two runs scored since "trade-gate." That kind of talk, so two days ago.

"He was just grinding too much and I'm sure his timing was a little off after a month off," Johnson said about Harper following the Nationals fourth straight win. "But he's focused right now."

By now, everyone knows the basics. About how the Nationals' 70-year-old manager publically considered benching his starting left fielder for the weekend. At the time, Harper was in a 0 for 18 slump after returning from a lengthy stint on the disabled list due to left knee bursitis.

About how the 20-year-old responded with a "play me or trade me" text to Johnson, one that offered less chin music than suggested. About how the two talked Saturday morning, leading to Johnson relenting and Harper's name remaining in the lineup. No doubt it will remain somewhere near the top of the order during the upcoming four-game series at Philadelphia.

As for whether he believes all the timing kinks are out of his swing, Harper isn't ready to say just yet.

"I'll tell you in three days after I face [John] Lannan, [Cole] Hamels and [Cliff] Lee," Harper cracked, noting the Phillies left-hander pitchers Washington will face consecutively. "That's going to be rough. I'm just trying to have good ab's, see a lot of pitches and just try to put the ball in play."

In 49 at-bats against southpaws this season, Harper is batting an unsightly .163. Neither of the starters he faced on Saturday and Sunday were lefties. With the power of Johnson's mind games, that's just semantics.

Of course, Harper isn't the only National producing offensively. Washington scored 24 runs during its three-game sweep of San Diego and a softball league-esque 56 over its last eight games.

At this point of the season, that is far more impressive to Johnson than his squad moving within four games of the NL East leading Atlanta Braves.

"The offense is really looking good. We're getting quality at bats all the way throughout the lineup," Johnson said. "That's the big thing. I don't so much worry about where we are right now. I just feel good going into the second half [of the season].

Even if it's a fluky scenario, everyone must feel better about the Nationals not only scoring runs, but doing so during a Stephen Strasburg start. In the right-handers previous four starts, Washington scored four runs total.  The rare offensive explosion helped Strasburg, who struck out nine but allowed four runs and hit three batters, pick up his first win in three starts.

"I think everybody has been swinging it well," Harper said. "It's good to puts runs up there on the board for Stras."

It's also good to see Harper's name on the scoreboard again and again and again and...