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Harper finds 2nd sweet spot with less stride

Nationals' star cuts back on leg kick, launches 25th HR
MLB.com @JamalCollier

PHOENIX -- As he puts together another standout season that should put him in consideration for another MVP Award, Bryce Harper appears to have added a new wrinkle to his game.

Harper greeted left-hander Anthony Banda -- the D-backs' No.1 prospect as rated by MLBPipeline.com who was making his Major League debut -- with a mammoth solo home run in the first inning of the Nats' 4-3 victory Saturday night. Banda tried to bury a curveball down and in against Harper on a 3-2 pitch, but Harper crushed the ball off the back wall of the concourse behind the pool in right-center field.

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PHOENIX -- As he puts together another standout season that should put him in consideration for another MVP Award, Bryce Harper appears to have added a new wrinkle to his game.

Harper greeted left-hander Anthony Banda -- the D-backs' No.1 prospect as rated by MLBPipeline.com who was making his Major League debut -- with a mammoth solo home run in the first inning of the Nats' 4-3 victory Saturday night. Banda tried to bury a curveball down and in against Harper on a 3-2 pitch, but Harper crushed the ball off the back wall of the concourse behind the pool in right-center field.

View Full Game Coverage

An official distance was not available. However, in terms of distance, Harper's home run compared favorable to a Joc Pederson home run on Sept. 17, 2016, that had a Statcast™ projected distance of 463 feet. Noteable about this home run, besides how far it traveled, was that Harper launched it without his signature leg kick.

In fact, Harper barely strode at all, instead shifting his weight back and forth before pouncing.

"It just kind of simplifies things," hitting coach Rick Schu said. "He usually does it when he gets to two strikes now, or he gets like a really tough matchup with a lefty. Just kind of keeps it simple, kind of like a B hack."

It's nice when a "B hack" can produce results like these.

Here's Harper's stride Saturday:
Gif: Bryce Harper stride

Compared to his regular leg kick:
Gif: Old Bryce Harper stride

Harper really became comfortable ditching the leg kick at times during a series against the Cardinals this month, hitting a pair of homers against Carlos Martinez on July 2 at Busch Stadium.

Gif: Harper HR.

Schu was impressed at how eliminating the stride has made Harper an even tougher at-bat with two strikes. Entering Saturday's game he owned a .912 OPS with two strikes, way up from his career mark of .649. Twelve of his 25 home runs this season have come with two strikes, tied with Milwaukee's Eric Thames for the most in the Majors.

"This is the best I've seen Harp," Schu said. "He looks better now than he did his MVP year [2015] for me. Just his grind and his direction, everything's been awesome."

Video: WSH@ARI: Extended cut of Harper's mammoth solo homer

Harper did not want to divulge much on his stride-less swing, and he has preferred for much of the season not to get into specifics about what he does at the plate.

"Not even trying to think about it at all," he said. "I don't know, sometimes I [stride], sometimes I don't. Sometimes I swing, sometimes I miss, and it's part of the game."

Video: WSH@ARI: Harper on 4-3 win against D-Backs

He especially avoids questions about his approach at the plate when he is in the midst of a hot streak, as he has been lately. Harper went 2-for-5 with a two RBIs Saturday, extending his career-best hitting streak to 15 games. During that span, he is hitting .458/.549/.932 with seven homers and 17 RBIs.

It has improved his overall slash line to .338/.444/.641 with 25 homers, which already surpasses last season's total.

Video: WSH@ARI: Harper smokes an RBI double to left field

"That's pretty good, hitting almost .340 when you're still tinkering and figuring it out," manager Dusty Baker said. "That's what's encouraging, that he's trying ways to get better."

Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

Washington Nationals, Bryce Harper