MIAMI — Throughout Bryce Harper's early, frustrating days back from the disabled list, manager Matt Williams insisted the young slugger's hitting stroke would return at some point. He just needed time and at-bats to find it.
Sure enough, it has come together over the last two weeks. In 11 games since the All-Star break, Harper is hitting .353 (12-for-34) with a .476 on-base percentage and a .976 OPS.
"I feel good," he said. "I try to come in here every single day and try to get better and have good ABs. That's pretty much it."
Harper has had particularly good at-bats in this series against the Marlins. He's 4-for-7 with a walk, and he easily could be 5-for-7 had he been awarded with a single on a sharp, bad-hop grounder to short on Monday night (Adeiny Hechavarria was charged with a tough error on the play).
There is still some room for improvement. Harper has only five extra-base hits (three doubles, two homers) in 23 games since returning from his torn thumb ligament, so his power stroke hasn't fully returned.
He also came up short in a key spot Tuesday night, with two on and two out in a 1-0 game in the top of the eighth. Facing left-hander Mike Dunn, who had just been summoned from the bullpen, Harper popped up the first pitch he saw, killing the rally.
"He hung a breaking ball, and I just got under it a little bit," he said. "If I catch it out front a little bit, it might be a different story. Dunner, he’s pretty dang good, throws about 95. I was sitting on a slider and got it. Just missed it."
Even so, the Nationals like what they see from Harper right now, recognizing if he keeps up this trajectory, those singles and popups will start turning into gap shots and homers.
"I think he's seeing it really well," Williams said. "The last at-bat last night he had a hanging slider that he just missed. But he certainly handled [Marlins starter Henderson Alvarez] really well last night. He's got great career numbers against him. He got a couple of hits. He's seeing the ball good. He walked. So yeah, I think he's right where he needs to be, right where he wants to be. And it's just going to get better and better the more at-bats he gets."