- - Tuesday, July 17, 2018

It has been a rough first half for the third-place Washington Nationals, who are 48-48 and 5½ games back of the first-place Philadelphia Phillies after winning the division by 20 games last year.

But first-year manager Dave Martinez was able to forget about that for a few hours Monday night at Nationals Park.

As bench coach for the National League team, he was on the field to watch and support Bryce Harper as the Nationals outfielder won the T-Mobile Home Run Derby with a late surge to beat the Chicago Cubs’ Kyle Schwarber in the final round.

In one stretch, Harper had nine homers on 10 swings. Harper became just the third player to win the derby in his home park and it came before a capacity crowd of nearly 44,000 people.

“It was unbelievable. It was great for the fans, great for Bryce. It was epic. For Bryce to win it here at home … incredible,” Martinez said Tuesday on 106.7 The Fan. “He wanted to do this more … for Washington. This means a lot to him. Not just to him but the whole city of Washington.”

Harper, the No. 2 seed, had a bonus 30 seconds in the last round and used that to hit the winning homer to beat No. 5 seed Schwarber in the eight-team field. Harper is the only Nationals player to ever take part in the Home Run Derby.

“It was epic. He knew what he had to do. I will never forget it. The way it happened was overwhelming. It was like something I have never experienced,” added Martinez, a bench coach last season with the Cubs and for the 2016 World Series victory.

Harper is among the major league leaders in homers with 23 and RBI with 54.

But he is hitting .214 and that average has brought much consternation from Nationals fans. He entered this season with a career average of .285.

“I think (Harper) is doing great,” Martinez said. “He has been pretty good out there (in center field). He just wants to win. When we don’t win I think he takes it to heart. He has fun. He is just so intense. In the dugout, he cheers for his team. He is all in. He wants to win. He is a competitor.”

Harper is in the final year of his contract and is slated to be a free agent after this season.

“He wants to play in Washington,” Martinez said. “He has told me that numerous times.”

Earlier Monday, Harper took part in a field dedication that will bear his name in Northern Virginia.

Martinez “is one of the best managers I’ve ever played for,” Harper said there Monday, according to mlb.com. “I look forward to hopefully playing with him for the next 10, 12 years. He is one of the best. We will see what happens.”

Harper will bat sixth and play center field for the National League on Tuesday.

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