CINCINNATI -- Nationals manager Dusty Baker offered outfielder Bryce Harper the day off Friday in Washington's second-half opener against the Reds. He declined, and Baker is probably glad he did.Because for the second time this month, fourth time this season and 14th time in his career, Harper launched two homers
CINCINNATI -- Nationals manager Dusty Baker offered outfielder Bryce Harper the day off Friday in Washington's second-half opener against the Reds. He declined, and Baker is probably glad he did.
Because for the second time this month, fourth time this season and 14th time in his career, Harper launched two homers in a game, giving starting pitcher Giovany Gonzalez all the help he needed in a 5-0 win over Cincinnati.
"Every single day I'm in there, I can do something to do damage," Harper said. "And if I'm not in there, then I possibly could have had an RBI or hit a homer, something like that. So if I would have had the day off today, I wouldn't have hit the two homers I wanted to hit."
Baker said before Friday's game he likes to give his players who participate in the All-Star Game an extra day of rest to get back in the swing of things. But it didn't look like Harper needed it, as he made the Reds pay from the get-go.
In the top of the third inning, Harper got a hold of a 2-1 fastball from Cincinnati starter Tim Adleman and belted it high into the right-field seats at Great American Ball Park for a two-run home run. Statcast™ measured the blast at 405 feet, leaving the bat with a 111.6-mph exit velocity.
Harper cashed in again in his next plate appearance, once again taking an Adleman four-seamer out -- this time his 440-foot solo homer gave Washington a 5-0 lead.
"Two mistakes, [and] he did what a good hitter is supposed to do with those," Adleman said, "and that's hit them hard."
Before Friday, Harper had hit just two home runs in his last 22 games -- both of which came against the Cardinals on July 2. This level of success in the first game back from the break has to be a welcome sign for Harper and the Nationals. In the second half of 2016, he hit just .226 with five home runs in what ended up being his worst season as a pro.
Harper has bounced back this season by hitting .325 with 20 home runs and 65 RBIs in the first half. And if he continues to carry that success over, he could be on pace to put up comparable numbers to his National League MVP season in 2015.
But perhaps what is most important for Washington is that Harper -- along with his teammates -- is still producing despite the handful of injuries that have plagued the offense over the season. The Nationals have lost starters Trea Turner and Jayson Werth to injury, and if the team can continue to score runs without them in the lineup, it will be even more dangerous when those players eventually return.
"We have depth and we're not afraid to use it," Baker said. "And whoever we put out there, we think they're going to do the job. ... These guys don't make any excuses. They don't alibi. They just go play."
Don't expect Harper to willingly take any days off.
Jeremy Vernon is a reporter for MLB.com based in Cincinnati and covered the Nationals on Friday.