- - Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Sports talk radio these days is filled with debate whether the Nationals should pay big money to keep free agent Bryce Harper on the team after this season.

Perhaps a more immediate concern is having the outfielder snap out of his prolonged batting slump.

The left-handed slugger leads the National League in homers with 19 and has driven in 44 runs. Harper has a slugging mark of .470 and has drawn 53 walks.

But the Las Vegas native has fanned 72 times in 249 at-bats and his average has fallen to .213.

For comparison, Orioles first baseman Chris Davis, who has not played much of late, has fanned 86 times in 207 at-bats and is hitting .150 with four homers. A Baltimore bar in Fells Point is offering free drinks whenever he gets a hit. That hasn’t happened around Navy Yard for Harper.

Harper is hitting .083 in his last seven games and in his last 15 games is hitting .143 with one homer in 56 at-bats. Over the past 30 games he is hitting .184. Harper hit .319 last season and has a career mark of .279 going into Wednesday’s home game with the Baltimore Orioles.

“I see some improvement and subtle changes in his approach at the plate,” Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo told 106.7 The Fan on Wednesday. “I see good things coming. I am a Harper believer. It is only a matter of time.”

Rizzo said he expects manager Dave Martinez to give Harper “a day or two” off in the near future just based on normal rest. In his last 30 games, Harper has fanned 45 times with just 12 walks, though he did have an RBI bloop double in a 9-7 win Tuesday over the Orioles.

“Everyone needs a day off (but) we are better team with Bryce in there,” Rizzo said.

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