Though he has begun to see success again since the All-Star break, hitting .304 with an .820 OPS over his last 14 games, Bryce Harper’s swing remains something of a work-in-progress.
Harper continues to tinker with his batting stance on a nightly basis, often making tweaks from one at-bat to the next. And as he searches for a comfort zone, the 21-year-old slugger also has been falling back into a habit familiar from previous slumps in his career: attempting bunts.
Harper has squared around several times in recent weeks, usually with limited-to-no success. Stats aren’t available for total bunt attempts (including foul balls and pitches taken or missed), but Harper has put six non-sacrifice bunts into play so far this season. He has reached safely only twice, on back-to-back days in early April.
This isn’t necessarily something new. Harper was 0-for-5 when trying to bunt for a hit last season, and for his career is only 4-for-17.
While understanding why his young slugger might be tempted to try to lay one down and use his speed to get on base, manager Matt Williams did say Saturday he would prefer Harper not do it most of the time.
“It depends on the situation,” Williams said. “It depends on a lot of things: Health, how his thumb is feeling. It depends on what the situation dictates for that particular game. More often than not, I would like to see him swing the bat. Because he just has the opportunity to do something special. If he feels like the guy’s playing him back far enough that he can do that and get on base, given the right situation, OK. But then again, there’s times when I want him to swing, too.
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“As an example, the last couple of times he’s tried to do it, I would say that we’d rather have him let ‘er fly and see what he can do there. Hit a leadoff double, or hit one over the fence. He certainly has that capability. We talk about it. When you’re searching to find a stroke, sometimes you want to get on base. So I can understand that. But there are times I’d like to see him let ‘er fly and get on second base in scoring position.”
Overall, Harper has hit the ball with more authority over the last two weeks than during his first stretch back from a torn thumb ligament. He still hasn’t found his power stroke — he’s slugging just .337 since coming off the DL on June 30 — but he has been hitting the ball to the opposite field with more frequency.
As for Harper’s seemingly constant tinkering with his stance, Williams doesn’t want to interject too much, recognizing any player is going to have a better feel for what works and what doesn’t work than a manager or coach.
“He’s been searching a little,” Williams said. “He’s been trying to find that timing, that rhythm. And he experiments with his stance from time to time. … I think it’s coming. That experiment happens from time to time with everybody. He’ll be OK, though.”