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Nats hopeful Harper will break out of slump

MLB.com @JamalCollier

WASHINGTON -- As one of the worst slumps of Bryce Harper's career continues, the Nationals continue to have confidence their superstar slugger is on the verge of a breakout. Harper and Nationals hitting coach Kevin Long have been working diligently to get his swing back on the right track, introducing new hitting drills to focus on Harper's mechanics and shorten his swing.

Prior to Wednesday's 3-0 loss to the Orioles, manager Dave Martinez reiterated that Harper's health is not one of the issues hindering him, pointing out that Harper needs to swing at strikes more frequently. But Martinez also said he sees a positive demeanor from Harper even as he has struggled, a sentiment general manager Mike Rizzo agreed with.

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WASHINGTON -- As one of the worst slumps of Bryce Harper's career continues, the Nationals continue to have confidence their superstar slugger is on the verge of a breakout. Harper and Nationals hitting coach Kevin Long have been working diligently to get his swing back on the right track, introducing new hitting drills to focus on Harper's mechanics and shorten his swing.

Prior to Wednesday's 3-0 loss to the Orioles, manager Dave Martinez reiterated that Harper's health is not one of the issues hindering him, pointing out that Harper needs to swing at strikes more frequently. But Martinez also said he sees a positive demeanor from Harper even as he has struggled, a sentiment general manager Mike Rizzo agreed with.

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"I think he's handled [his struggles] with class and dignity," Rizzo said. "I think he's been a great teammate through it all. It's easy to be a good teammate when you're 4-for-4 and hitting .330. It's tough when you're 1-for-20 or you're 1-for-25 and struggling.

"I think he's shown the maturity and the class to be a good teammate, and [he is] more worried about the wins than the hits, and I think that's an important aspect he's learned throughout his career. He's become a team leader for us, and when you're doing your worst, you have to be at your best. I think that's what Harp's shown this season in the way he's grinded through these struggles."

Harper's struggles have increased since the start of June. In 15 games entering Wednesday, he is batting .143/.238/.214 with just one home run, 23 strikeouts and five walks. Although he leads the NL in home runs at 19, his overall slash line is down to .213/.352/.470 for an OPS of .821. Respectable numbers, but not the production expected from a player with Harper's talent.

While the Nationals' manager has acknowledged he has seen Harper grow frustrated at times lately, Martinez has raved about Harper's attitude during the skid. Harper happily moved to center field when Martinez approached him about it a few weeks ago. He has moved Harper from leadoff to cleanup without any issue from Harper.

"He's going to hit, and I know he's going to carry us for a month or two," Martinez said. "So, let's not overwhelm him with anything because he's a good hitter, and his power numbers are really good. So, let's just kind of take a step back and just kind of feel things out and let him get going. He's going to get going. There's no doubt about it, he's going to get going. We just got to kind of simplify everything for him and make the game fun again."

One thing the Nationals have not discussed is the prospect of putting Harper on the bench, even if it's for a few days to clear his head. Martinez asked Harper a few days ago if he wanted to take a break, either mentally or physically, and Harper told him he preferred to play through it, and that's the way he will break out of his slump.

"You can see it in somebody's face when they say something, and they don't really mean it," Martinez said. "He says it with conviction. I believe that."

Injury notes
Brandon Kintzler threw a bullpen session on Wednesday, his first since landing on the disabled list with a flexor strain in his right forearm.

Matt Wieters caught a bullpen session this week, although his oblique still hinders him when running.

Ryan Zimmerman (oblique) is still fielding grounders and hitting as he continues to improve toward beginning a potential rehab assignment.

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

Washington Nationals, Bryce Harper