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Hot Harper up to spring-leading 8 homers

March 27, 2017

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Bryce Harper homered in his first at-bat of the spring here at First Data Field, and it turns out that was only the start of what has been a tear through the Grapefruit League. He launched another pair of home runs in Monday afternoon's 6-0

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Bryce Harper homered in his first at-bat of the spring here at First Data Field, and it turns out that was only the start of what has been a tear through the Grapefruit League. He launched another pair of home runs in Monday afternoon's 6-0 victory against the Mets to bring his homer total to a Major League-leading eight in 52 at-bats during this exhibition season.
Prior to this spring, Harper had never homered more than three times during Spring Training. Spring stats do not necessarily predict success during the regular season, but Harper looks every bit like the player who won the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 2015. He is slugging .827 with a .403 on-base percentage. A few days ago, Harper told manager Dusty Baker he was ready for the season to begin.
"I think it's just more not wanting to play anymore down here," Harper said. "So just trying to get my work in when I can and do the things I can to get to D.C. Biggest thing, just trying to stay healthy and get up there."
And perhaps that is the biggest key. Harper is healthy, ready to go, and his spring reflects it.
Any positive signs are encouraging for Harper, who is trying to bounce back from a disappointing 2016 season. His power especially dipped during the second half of last season, when he hit just five home runs after the All-Star break and only one during the final month of the season.

The reasons for his dropoff in production are up for debate, but Harper went out and worked this winter to add 15 pounds of muscle, and he appears to be stronger. He launched his first home run Monday past the grass area over the right-field fence in the fourth inning off right-hander Seth Lugo, who is trying to win a job in the Mets' rotation. Then Harper punished right-hander Paul Sewald with a two-run homer in the eighth.
"Just trying to have good at-bats," Harper said. "That's the biggest thing for me, I'm trying to get good at-bats, good ABs and get out of here healthy."
Whether Harper can carry his torrid pace this spring into the regular season remains to be seen. However, this is an encouraging sign for the Nationals, who will be counting on him to be a focal point in the middle of their order.
"He's not missing pitches and he's not fouling balls off," Baker said earlier this month. "When you're not doing well, a lot of times you're fouling balls off that you should put in play -- whether it's a line drive, home run or popup or something. To me, he was underneath and missing a lot of balls, fouling them off [last season]."
"We'd like to see him hot. We love seeing him hit that ball out of the ballpark. If Bryce can stay where he is and we can get some other guys going, then bam, we're off and running."

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