- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Bryce Harper peppered balls over the fence at Nationals Park on Wednesday afternoon, hitting three home runs in his first three at-bats as the Washington Nationals beat the Miami Marlins in their series finale, 7-5.

Harper did most of the heavy lifting in a game that grew surprisingly close after Giancarlo Stanton’s three-run home run in the eighth. Up by two runs in the top of the ninth, Drew Storen allowed two runners to reach base but struck out the final two hitters he faced — Stanton among them — to end it.

THE RUNDOWN: This one was a tale of two stars. First, the obvious: Harper had what was probably his best game with the Nationals. He hit home runs in each of his first three at-bats, the first to the visiting bullpen in left field and the other two to the second deck in right. According to ESPN Stats & Info, the home runs traveled a combined 1,276 feet. Overshadowed by Harper’s homers was Max Scherzer, who struck out 10 batters with no walks over seven-plus innings. After a two-run second inning, Scherzer pitched five scoreless frames and eclipsed the 100-pitch mark. Despite the right-hander’s high pitch count, Williams allowed him to return to the mound for the eighth, and that strategy backfired. After consecutive singles, Stanton hit a three-run homer, pulling Miami back to within 7-5.

THE HIGHLIGHT: Of the three Harper homers, his last was probably most impressive. In the fifth inning, the right fielder crushed an 0-1 pitch from Tom Koehler to an aisle of stairs in the second deck in right field. The ball hit the concrete and skipped upward, landing in the last row of the section, just short of the concourse more than 440 feet away. According to ESPN’s Home Run Tracker, it was the second longest home run hit by a Nationals player this season. Harper also owns the top spot in that category with a 452-foot shot on April 18.

STAR OF THE GAME: Who else? Still just 22 years old, Harper became the fourth player in Nationals history to hit three homers in a single game, joining Alfonso Soriano, Adam Dunn and Ryan Zimmerman. He is the youngest player to finish with three homers and five RBI in a game since Al Kaline achieved the same feat in April 1955.

THE TAKEAWAY: With three home runs Wednesday, Harper has eight homers and 20 RBI in 29 games so far this season. Those numbers are impressive, but mostly because they’re flashy. Harper’s league-leading 26 walks and .405 on-base percentage are equally impressive, but unheralded. His patience is just as important to Washington’s lineup. The combination of the two shows just how comfortable Harper is at the plate this season and how he’s grown in terms of pitch recognition and selection. Finally, one last overlooked number for Harper? His 29 starts in 29 games. Health has been the main deterrent for him in his young big-league career. So if he continues to play every day, it will really be fun to watch.

SEE ALSO: Jayson Werth misses second consecutive game with shoulder soreness

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