TORONTO -- Bryce Harper bent over with his hands on his knees at home plate. He paused there for a moment before he stood upright, flipped his bat in his hand and took a moment to collect himself before he headed to the dugout.He had just watched strike three go past
TORONTO -- Bryce Harper bent over with his hands on his knees at home plate. He paused there for a moment before he stood upright, flipped his bat in his hand and took a moment to collect himself before he headed to the dugout.
He had just watched strike three go past him, a 95-mph fastball from Aaron Loup that caught majority of the plate, freezing Harper even though he represented the tying run in the eighth inning of Washington's 2-0 loss to the Blue Jays on Saturday.
It was perhaps a quiet moment of frustration for the Nationals' struggling slugger mired in a slump that has only grown worse this month, including his 0-for-4 performance with a pair of strikeouts on Saturday. Harper, who leads the National League in homers with 19, has now struck out 20 times in 12 games this month and walked only four times. He entered the day with a slash line of .179/.289/.256 this month and just one home run.
"I feel great," said Harper, who is slashing .221/.361/.489 this season. "Just missing pitches."
Missing pitches in the strike zone has been one of the biggest issues for Harper this month. In June, he is swinging and missing at 36.4 percent of pitches in the strike zone, way up from 17.5 percent in May and 29.8 percent in March/April.
However, his struggles do not end there. He has gotten worse against fastballs each month with his hard-hit rate declining as the season has progressed. He hit 57.1 percent of fastballs hard (defined as 95 mph+) in March/April, which fell to 45.5 percent in May and 37.5 percent in June. He is slugging just .308 this month against fastballs.
And he has started 0-for-11 against offspeed pitches this month, swinging at about 40 percent of offspeed pitches out the strike zone, up from 29.8 percent in May and 18.0 percent in March/April.
"I watch him and he gets a little frustrated," manager Dave Martinez said. "The biggest thing is just to keep him level-headed and let him go out there and do his thing. I've said this before, he's one of the best players in the game. He's going to carry us, I know he is."
Despite Harper's struggles, which can be traced back toward the end of May, Martinez has not considered giving him any extra days off for mental breaks. In fact, he is encouraged by the fact that Harper is in good spirits around the clubhouse before the game. On Saturday morning, he was watching and cheering while someone missed a penalty kick during the World Cup.
Harper has told Martinez he wants to play and work his way out of his slump that way. And Martinez knows that any day, Harper could hit a pair of home runs and be back to the player the Nationals have grown accustomed to.
And for Harper, he prefers to keep his fix uncomplicated.
"Just try to get pitches to hit and not miss them," he said. "Plain and simple."
Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.