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Harper hammers MLB-leading 7th homer

MLB.com

WASHINGTON -- It has gotten to the point where opposing pitchers may just want to put Bryce Harper on base for free. After all, when they don't, he's making them pay.

A night after Mike Trout tied Harper for the league lead in homers, the Nationals' slugger drove the first pitch he saw from Rockies left-hander Tyler Anderson on Sunday into the right-center-field seats for his seventh long ball of the season in the Nationals' 6-5 loss to the Rockies.

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WASHINGTON -- It has gotten to the point where opposing pitchers may just want to put Bryce Harper on base for free. After all, when they don't, he's making them pay.

A night after Mike Trout tied Harper for the league lead in homers, the Nationals' slugger drove the first pitch he saw from Rockies left-hander Tyler Anderson on Sunday into the right-center-field seats for his seventh long ball of the season in the Nationals' 6-5 loss to the Rockies.

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According to Statcast™, the blast that gave the Nats a 1-0 lead left Harper's bat at 109.1 mph and traveled an estimated 418 feet. It was the only run he would score despite reaching base four times, finishing 1-for-2 with three walks. He now also sits atop the big leagues with 20 walks and a 1.219 on-base plus slugging percentage.

The hot start is nothing new for the 25-year-old phenom -- the solo shot gave Harper his 40th career home run in April, easily the most in any month throughout his seven years in the Majors. And, as usual, he praised his teammates rather than touting his own prolific day at the plate. Even so, it was an afternoon filled with missed opportunities for the Washington offense to put up crooked numbers.

"I think we battled," Harper said. "I think we grinded as a team and had some good at-bats. ... That's part of the game."

The lone mistake the 2015 National League Most Valuable Player saw was crushed into the bleachers. But Colorado pitchers weren't going to let him beat them again.

Harper worked a 2-2 count before swinging through a quality changeup from Anderson in his second at-bat. In the fifth inning, Harper had a chance with two runners on, but he drew a full-count walk. The Nats would squander that chance, as Ryan Zimmerman grounded out to short.

In the seventh, Harper took a first-pitch strike before reliever Jake McGee issued him four consecutive balls. And in the final frame, Harper walked on four pitches.

With Adam Eaton, Anthony Rendon and Daniel Murphy all nursing injuries, Harper is lacking the protection in the order he will soon likely have back. There's no doubting the Nationals -- and Harper -- would be in better shape with that trio in the order daily.

Catcher Matt Wieters can attest.

"I would love to have Murph, I'd love to have Tony in the lineup, I'd love to have Eaton in the lineup -- it makes us better," Wieters said. "But we still feel we've got a pretty good lineup going out there."

And the Nationals do; They rank 12th in MLB in runs scored. But that's a far cry from what they can accomplish with a full, healthy lineup. Until the Washington hitters return to full strength, however, teams can continue to pick and choose when to pitch to Harper.

"I think really throughout the whole year people are weary of Bryce," Wieters said. "There's not really one time where Bryce is going to go up there and the pitcher's not aware of what he can do. ... I don't think anyone is putting pressure on it, but we all are cognizant of what we need to do. We need to be able to drive in some more runs."

Oliver Macklin is a reporter for MLB.com based in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter at @basebollie.

Washington Nationals, Bryce Harper