After Bryce Harper’s most frustrating day as a major leaguer, he dressed quickly at his locker. He tossed on a knit hat, slung the tuxedo he’d need for the organization’s charity gala later Saturday evening over his shoulder and walked out of the Washington Nationals’ clubhouse.
In doing so, he took the first step toward heeding the advice of first baseman Adam LaRoche: Shake it off.
In an excruciating 5-3, 14-inning loss to the New York Yankees on Saturday afternoon, Harper’s day glared in the box score. He was 0-for-7. He struck out five times.
So as the Nationals made their way into the clubhouse Saturday evening, LaRoche pulled Harper aside.
It was just more than a month ago, during what had been the standard-bearer for Harper’s toughest offensive game since his April 28 call-up, that Harper took his frustrations out with a bat on the dugout wall in Cincinnati and got his comeuppance with 10 stitches above his left eye. On that night, Harper was 0-for-5 with three strikeouts.
“Shake it off,” LaRoche said to Harper. “It’s not the last time you’re going to have a bad game. If you’re lucky, you’ll have lots of bad games because you’re playing for a long time. Shake it off. Hurt ‘em tomorrow.”
But as Harper told a reporter who approached him, “I don’t want to talk,” it was clear that the mourning process for this performance might be longer than most. According to Baseball-Reference.com, Harper joined a dignified list of players who’ve gone 0-for-7 against the Yankees in their careers, a list that includes Carl Yastrzemski, Rod Carew and Cal Ripken Jr. It’s likely that didn’t much take away the sting.
“This is probably his first really tough game where he was chasing balls and overanxious,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson, who watched Harper see just 14 pitches in four at-bats from Andy Pettite, swinging and missing at seven of them and not making contact until a fly-out to center field on No. 14.
“I’ve never seen him swing at balls out of the zone,” Johnson added, speculating some of the reasoning behind that was Harper being “amped up” to face Pettitte. “He was chasing balls. Got in that mode where [he was] trying to make something happen. That’s part of the youth.”
Pettitte fed him cut fastballs, going off the scouting report the Yankees gave him that said the Nationals’ outfielder was an aggressive hitter. Harper couldn’t resist.
“He seemed extremely aggressive,” Pettitte said. “When you see him swinging the way he was, for me, it was like: Why go anywhere else right now? I just stayed with those cutters.”
Harper’s body language devolved as the game went on, his day worsening. After home plate umpire Tim Timmons called Clay Rapada’s outside pitch Strike 3 against him in the 10th inning, Harper had some choice words for Timmons. The lone highlight for him was 14 innings of clean defense, including a highlight-reel catch that robbed Eric Chavez to end the 13th inning.
“I think it’s probably safe to say [this was his most frustrating game yet],” LaRoche said. “For a guy that’s getting two hits every night, I think this is definitely his toughest game.”
Since Harper’s incident in Cincinnati, one that was handled with maturity and accountability, he’s hit .309. Even with his career-worst day, Harper left Nationals Park on Saturday night hitting .289, and still leading the team’s everyday position players with a .518 slugging percentage and .367 on-base percentage.
He and his team will get a chance Sunday to follow his teammates’ advice, to shake off their past two games as mere hiccups, and attempt to avoid getting swept for the third time this season.
“I’d rather strike out five times in the big leagues as a 19-year-old than not be in the big leagues at all,” said shortstop Ian Desmond. “But I would definitely put my money on him to bounce back. I don’t think it’s going to keep him down for too long. I’m sure he’ll come in tomorrow, shake it off and be back to the same energetic kid that we’ve all seen.”