Nationals Report: Bryce Harper is back

bryce harperThe Bryce Harper of 2016 hit .243. The Harper of 2017 is looking, and yes, it’s early, like the 2015 NL MVP.

Harper’s slash line is .404/.516/.846, and in last night’s 14-4 win at Atlanta, he had his second two-homer game in three games.

He already has six homers and 18 RBI in 14 games, and 12 walks in 64 plate appearances.

A note of caution here: Harper got off to a hot start in 2016. Through April 26, Harper was hitting .328/.430/.844 with nine homers and 24 RBI and 13 walks in 75 plate appearances over 19 games, before fading to his .243/.373/.441, 24 homers, 86 RBI finish.

I don’t know that anybody else has raised issue with this, but I have to wonder if the five-game stretch in July where Harper was out of action with reported stiffness in his neck had something to do with the decline.

Neither Harper nor the Nats raised issue with his health, and he played 147 games in 2016, so he was in the lineup basically every day.

In any case, the 2015 Harper –  .330/.460/.649, 42 HR, 99 RBI, 131 walks in 652 plate appearances – appears to be back.


Solid start for the Big Four

The top four starters – Gio Gonzalez, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Tanner Roark – are a combined 6-1 in 12 starts in 2017.

Most impressive, surprisingly, has been Gonzalez, who is just 1-0 in three starts, but has a rotation-best 1.33 ERA in 20.1 innings.

The issue has been the bullpen, which was unsettled coming out of spring training, with the front office unable to land a top-flight closer in the offseason. The decision to promote from within and go with Blake Treinen does not appear to be working out, to say the least, with Treinen posting a 7.11 ERA in his first eight appearances, allowing 10 hits and walking six in 6.1 innings, for a ghastly 2.53 WHIP.

Treinen retired just one of the five batters that he faced before being lifted in the ninth inning of Washington’s 3-1 win at Atlanta Tuesday night, handing the ball to Shawn Kelley to clean up his mess.

Kelley got out of a bases-loaded jam to record his first save of the season, but he hasn’t exactly been lights-out himself in 2017 – giving up five hits, including three homers, and walking two in six innings, with a 6.00 ERA.

The only guys effective out of the pen to date have been Matt Albers (0.00 ERA in four innings) and Koda Glover (3.18 ERA in 5.2 innings), neither of whom jump out immediately as closer types.

With perhaps the best everyday lineup and best starting rotation in the NL, the Nats’ fortunes in 2017 are going to hinge on coming to some kind of resolution to endgames.

Column by Chris Graham