WASHINGTON -- When assessing the reasons Bryce Harper fell into one of the worst slumps of his career over the past month, his agent, Scott Boras offered a few suggestions.
He pointed to the high percentage of pitches Harper sees outside of the strike zone, especially compared to other stars and the way the shift has particularly plagued him this season, but still pointed to Harper's high volume of walks and his elite power numbers. And Boras dismissed the idea that Harper's impending free agency was weighing on his mind and adding extra pressure.
"You have to look at what the game and the opponents are trying to do to prohibit greatness," Boras said Tuesday afternoon. "Because he gets off to a great start and what do they do? They're going to starve him from the strike zone."
Harper's overall batting line, entering Tuesday's game against the Red Sox, is a perplexing one. His .217 batting average would be a career low and well below his career average, but he began the day tied with Nolan Arenado for the National League lead in home runs (21) while leading the circuit with 67 walks.
After scuffling through the first few weeks of June, he has started to show more patience at the plate recently, posting a slash line of .273/.479/.636 with eight extra-base hits in his past 11 games, including a moonshot home run onto the concourse in the second deck on Monday. He has even played center field, impressing Boras with how well he has handled the position change.
It has made this a difficult season to evaluate Harper in the final year on his contract in Washington before he enters what is a potential record-setting free agency.
"I look at metrics about how hard you're hitting the ball and what you're doing with the pitches you can hit," Boras said. "When the league doesn't want to participate in a way that's customary, then we can't look at players in customary ways. There's no question that with the walk rates Bryce Harper has, he's going to have less hits."
Strasburg throws another bullpen
Stephen Strasburg took another positive step toward his return from the disabled list Tuesday by throwing a 60-pitch bullpen session. His next step could be to throw in a simulated game, possibly as soon as this weekend.
Strasburg, also a Boras client, has been out since June 9 with inflammation in his right shoulder, but he threw a pair of bullpens this past weekend in Philadelphia. He will almost certainly require a Minor League rehab stint before returning, but he seems to be on track to return sometime around the All-Star break.
"It's just a matter of him getting on point, health-wise," Boras said. "I think as he's going through the stepping stones of this that he's getting more aware about what makes him [excel], both in his delivery adjustments and his direction. I expect him to be healthy, dominant and Stephen Strasburg."