WASHINGTON -- Bryce Harper's every move has been scrutinized and closely monitored since he arrived in Washington, so it is only natural that he is once again the center of attention with the 89th MLB All-Star Game presented by Mastercard on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. ET on FOX coming to
WASHINGTON -- Bryce Harper's every move has been scrutinized and closely monitored since he arrived in Washington, so it is only natural that he is once again the center of attention with the 89th MLB All-Star Game presented by Mastercard on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. ET on FOX coming to Nationals Park. It is the halfway point of the much anticipated final year on his contract with the Nationals, one that so far has not lived up to the enormous expectations it carried.
Questions surrounding Harper's future have fueled the conversation around him for years now, and it was no different Monday afternoon at All-Star Game media day as Harper's table was crowded by a horde of reporters searching for insight into his next move.
:: Complete All-Star Game coverage ::
"I think that everybody knew that at the beginning of the year this could be possibly my last year in D.C," said Harper, who would go on to win the T-Mobile Home Run Derby in front of his hometown fans. "Everybody knows that. There's no elephant in the room. Everybody knows that that's a possibility, but I'm not really focused on that. I'm focused on what I can do to help the team win on a daily basis."
Harper is joined by Max Scherzer, who was named the starting pitcher for the National League, and Sean Doolittle, who is on the 10-day disabled list with a left foot injury and will not pitch in the game, as the three representatives for Washington. The Nats enter the break at 46-46, a .500 record and currently in third place in the NL East. It's an underachievement considering their expectations at the start of the season, and Harper has been in some ways the singular public face of those struggles.
Harper labored through one of the worst slumps of his career in June to bring his slash line to .214/.365/.468 entering the break, a strong year by most standards (his OPS+ is 120) even if it falls short of his Herculean expectations. Instead of worrying about the batting average -- depressed by a surprisingly low .226 BABIP -- Harper said he focused on the rest of his production and ways he has helped contribute.
"I look up there and see my average as well, and I look up there and go, 'Aw, man, well that sucks,'" Harper said. "But I look over a little bit to the right side of that and see 23 homers and  RBIs and  walks and runs scored and stuff like that.
"I don't know. Should I be hitting .300 or .280? Yeah, absolutely. But I guess I am where I'm at, and hopefully the only way I can go is up."
The Nationals are also considering that the worst of their season is behind them. Stephen Strasburg has been lined up to pitch the first game after the break on Friday. Ryan Zimmerman began a Minor League rehab assignment Monday and could be activated from the DL this weekend. Doolittle even threw off flat ground in the outfield Monday and does not believe he will require a lengthy stay on the DL.
With those players returning from injury, plus some improved play in the second half, the Nats are still optimistic they are going to get on a roll in the second half.
"There's a lot of guys that have won a lot in that clubhouse," Doolittle said. "There's something to be said for just having a knack for winning. Just being able to win. It's one of those intangible things that I think still counts for a lot.
"We're going to get healthy. ... We won't have that excuse anymore, so it's go time."
Harper has never been one to make excuses nor has his confidence wavered despite the slump. He insists the added pressures that come with a contract year, facing rounds of questions on Monday or representing the home team at the All-Star Game do not faze him. These are moments where Harper thrives.
"I'm 25 years old and I'm able to play this wonderful game of baseball every single day. What pressure do I have to feel?" he said. "What pressure do I feel running out to right field every single day? The pressure I feel is for every guy in my clubhouse, for every other guy on my team, for my fans in my stadium.
"It's the game that I love to play. It's something I get chills. There's nothing greater than going out there and putting on 34 and being Bryce Harper and loving the game that I play."
While watching the 2018 All-Star Game presented by Mastercard live on FOX on Tuesday, fans can submit their choices for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet with the 2018 All-Star Game MLB.com MVP Vote.
The 89th Midsummer Classic, at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., will be televised nationally by FOX Sports; in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS; and worldwide by partners in more than 180 countries. FOX Deportes will provide Spanish-language coverage in the United States, while ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide exclusive national radio coverage of the All-Star Game. MLB Network, MLB.com and SiriusXM also will provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage.
For more information about MLB All-Star Week and to purchase tickets, visit AllStarGame.com and follow @MLB and @AllStarGame on social media.
Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.