Since returning from a nine-week absence in late June, Bryce Harper has yet to find his form on offense. It's only been seven games, but the guy who hit three home runs in his final rehab outing has yet to show up.
After going 0-for-3 with two walks in the Nats' loss to the Orioles on Monday night, Harper is now 4-for-24 with 10 strikeouts since coming back. While he waits for his swing to click, manager Matt Williams insists he is seeing measured signs of progress in the young star.
"He looks better, his timing is a little better. It's a process, man," Williams said. "You take that much time off, it's difficult to maintain timing. I think he's starting to see it a little bit better, he's a little calmer at the plate. The results weren't there, but standing in the dugout watching, he just looks calmer. He looks like he's seeing the ball a little bit better."
Harper played in five total minor league games before rejoining the Nationals on June 30. With seven MLB games under his belt, he's 12 games into his return from surgery to repair the UCL in his left thumb.
Williams described the process of getting your timing back as a hitter:
"There's nothing that simulates game speed, that's why we have six weeks of spring training. You have to have that to get ready because there's really no other way to do it. You can get in the cage with a [pitching machine] and throw the ball at 100 miles per hour, but it's not the same as a pitcher out there having the ability to throw a curveball at any time. It's not easy. It's about a fifth of a second to react and decide what you're going to do."
Harper is now hitting .262 on the season through 29 games and has one home run. Time on the DL or not, his numbers are not what has come to be expected of the two-time All-Star.
Williams believes the hype that surrounds Harper as a young face of baseball has an effect.
"I think expectation has a lot to do with it. I think we're all human and regardless of the job we do or who we are in relation to Bryce, we all expect greatness. And so when it's not, there's a bigger emphasis.
"Everybody goes through slumps, everybody has injuries, everybody who comes back from a long layoff has timing issues and needs to get back into the flow of the game. But I think with Bryce especially, that spotlight shines a little bit brighter than most folks. There is a bigger emphasis."
Williams followed that up with a reassurance that Harper is close to breaking through.
"I'll tell you this, though, I think he's going to be just fine. It will be good and he will be good. It may take some time and that's the case for everybody. But I think he will be just fine."