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Harper keeps NL ASG starting spot in grasp

Hellickson set for simulated game Tuesday in latest rehab step
MLB.com @JamalCollier

WASHINGTON -- Bryce Harper's early batting-practice session Monday afternoon at Nationals Park took on a bit of a different look, and not just because he showed up with a freshly shaved face.

VOTE: 2018 Camping World MLB All-Star Ballot

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WASHINGTON -- Bryce Harper's early batting-practice session Monday afternoon at Nationals Park took on a bit of a different look, and not just because he showed up with a freshly shaved face.

VOTE: 2018 Camping World MLB All-Star Ballot

View Full Game Coverage

Harper received underhand flips from hitting coach Kevin Long with a batting screen placed on the other side of the plate at the extension point of his swing. It was hours before Harper was set to lead off the resumption of a suspended game with the Yankees.

Even as Harper remains in place to start his fourth consecutive All-Star Game, he dropped to second place on the latest National League ballot update revealed on Monday. Part of that reason stems from the stellar play of Nick Markakis of Atlanta and the voting push from Braves fans that has their players in the top three at every position.

But the dip also comes as Harper is mired in a slump. He entered Monday 1-for-20 with eight strikeouts and three walks in his past six games, dropping his overall batting line to .217/.355/.479. Harper still leads the NL with 19 home runs and owns an .834 OPS. And as one of baseball's biggest starts, he is worthy to be showcased during the All-Star Game, but the Nats want to help him break out of his skid.

So Long and Harper talked after Sunday night's game and decided to try this drill in an effort to make Harper's swing more direct to the ball.

"It's just time to get shorter and more compact," Long said. "Quit reaching and quit losing your barrel. That drill does it. It does it every single time."

Harper is still the most prominent and best positioned Nationals player in All-Star voting, with Matt Adams in 15th place among outfielders and Trea Turner down to fifth among shortstops.

Fans may cast votes for starters at MLB.com and all 30 club sites -- on computers, tablets and smartphones -- exclusively online using the 2018 Camping World MLB All-Star Ballot until Thursday, July 5, at 11:59 p.m. ET. On smartphones and tablets, fans can also access the ballot via the MLB At Bat and MLB Ballpark mobile apps. Each fan can vote up to five times in any 24-hour period, for a maximum of 35 ballots cast.

Following the announcement of this year's All-Star starters, reserves and pitchers, fans should return to MLB.com and cast their 2018 Camping World MLB All-Star Final Vote for the final player on each league's roster. Then on Tuesday, July 17, while watching the 2018 All-Star Game presented by Mastercard live on FOX, fans may visit MLB.com to submit their choices for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet with the 2018 MLB All-Star Game 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, please visit AllStarGame.com and follow @MLB and @AllStarGame on social media.

Worth noting

Jeremy Hellickson will throw a simulated game Tuesday at Nationals Park in what could potentially be the final step in his rehab from the right hamstring injury that landed him on the disabled list on June 5. He took pitchers' fielding practice on Monday and said he has already thrown a pair of bullpen sessions and feels his return is imminent.

Hellickson has been sidelined since sustaining a mild hamstring strain, and although he did not travel with the club this past week, he made substantial progress at home.

Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

Washington Nationals, Bryce Harper