WASHINGTON -- Two games into his postseason career, Bryce Harper is already facing questions about changing his approach. For the 19-year-old center fielder, though, a return home to Nationals Park could be the most natural cure-all.
As the Nationals split the first pair of National League Divisional Series games with the Cardinals in St. Louis, Harper went just 2-for-10 with six strikeouts. Even his lone highlight, a double in the seventh inning of Game 2 on Monday, was quickly erased in the next at-bat.
With Harper at second and Jayson Werth on third, Ryan Zimmerman lofted a sac fly to left field to score Werth. But after Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday had already begun throwing the ball into the cutoff man, second baseman Daniel Descalso, Harper tried advancing to third. Descalso fired to shortstop Pete Kozma, who was covering the bag, easily nabbing Harper and giving the Nationals their second out of the inning.
"Our inexperience has shown up in a couple areas," manager Davey Johnson said when the Nats returned to Washington for a workout day on Tuesday. "Harper made a kind of -- well, he's made those kind of plays all year long trying to stretch a double into a triple or whatever."
Indeed, a fair amount of Harper's nine triples -- the fifth-most in a single season by a teenager -- were results of hard running out of the box and a willingness to stretch a double into a close play at third.
Given the bigger postseason stage, Harper's baserunning error on Tuesday only served to magnify his struggles at the plate. But in reality, Harper faced 49 pitches between the two games, seeing at least seven pitches in an at-bat four separate times. Both he and Johnson downplayed any issues with his approach at the plate, instead pointing out the benefits of returning home and the difficulties in facing St. Louis' pitching staff.
"I'm just trying to play my game," Harper said. "That's the biggest thing you can do. You can't really change or try to do anything different."
Johnson went even further, downplaying any concerns with a crack about Harper's hair, which was dyed jet black for the first two games in St. Louis.
"He's going to be fine. I noticed today he's back to his natural hair color," Johnson said. "That pleases me. He has just a great approach at home plate, and had good BP today.
"I think we are going to get better at-bats all the way through the lineup."