Mike Rizzo on Bryce Harper's struggles: 'I think he's handled them with class and dignity'

Mike Rizzo on Bryce Harper's struggles: 'I think he's handled them with class and dignity'


Nationals slugger Bryce Harper, mired in a colossal slump that has dropped his batting average to .213, enjoys a contemplative moment on second base after his fifth-inning double during Tuesday’s victory over the Orioles. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

If Bryce Harper did not have such a long and varied resume of major league successes, what has happened over the last few weeks would not be worth the energy so many who write and talk about this game devote to it. But Harper is not a man with a history of slides like the one pulling his batting average to subterranean levels. So when he struggles like this, something is off, something is different. Changes always seem worth noting.

Harper has such a long history of 100 mile per hour line drives and prolific home runs, it feels almost absurd that a little bloop hit in the fifth inning of a June game could feel like such a big deal. But that hit, the one that fell into short left field to tie Tuesday night’s game, was just his second hit in the last eight days. That hit felt monumental.

For weeks the question has been “what is off?” and many have offered answers. The answer, drawn from observations and data, conversations and the eye test, seems to be that Harper is swinging more than normal, missing pitches he usually hits, and suffering from a fair bit of shift-induced bad luck. The combination has dropped his batting average to .213, and whatever the statheads say about batting average’s relevance as a statistic — generally, that it has none — a drop that precipitous says something has changed.

Perhaps more importantly, a drop like that is impossible for Harper to ignore, as the number greets him on the scoreboard before each at-bat, as regularly as questions about his free agent value are debated around him. The answer to the question of “what is wrong?” is multifacted. The answer to the less-asked question of “how is he doing?” is even more complicated.

Whatever Harper is thinking, he won’t let on. Asked how he is feeling at the plate this weekend, Harper said “I feel great.” The answer tests credulity, but even if it is genuine, Harper has certainly felt better. His manager, Dave Martinez, brought up the star’s mental state before a game against the Blue Jays in Toronto last weekend. He said he was laughing and joking around, and seemed to be in good spirits. He talked about how he and his staff suggested to Harper that he was taking too many swings in the cage, trying too hard, spinning his wheels until his head was spinning, too. Martinez, like so many others, are keeping a close eye on Harper as he endures the most prolonged and prolific slump of his career.

“I’m very proud that he’s working on stuff. For me, he’s a constant professional. He wants to win,” Martinez said. “There’s no ifs, ands, buts about it. When I talk to him daily, all he ever tells me is that he just wants to help the team win.”

His general manager, who came to Harper’s spirited defense when an unnamed executive criticized him from afar, is keeping an eye on him, too.

“I think he’s handled [his struggles] with class and dignity. I think he’s been a great teammate through it all,” Mike Rizzo said. “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.”

Harper’s demeanor in the clubhouse has not changed much, though he was not an outspoken and gregarious presence to begin with. He is still quiet, still sometimes surly. To those who cover him everyday — those around him, but not close to him — the biggest off-field difference in April Bryce Harper and June slumping Bryce Harper are a pair of translucent eyeglasses and a clean-shaven face. Martinez says he has asked Harper about whether he needs a day off here and there, but that Harper keeps telling him he wants to play. Even as the Nationals’ outfield has become healthier and more crowded, Harper has played in every game since May 9, with one pinch-hit appearance (a half day off, perhaps) in that stretch.

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

Rizzo’s constant and consistent defense of his star stands out as the summer hits its stride. Harper’s free agency is looming, and Rizzo has made clear, over and over, answer after answer, that he will stand behind Harper through it all. He has never had to stand behind him through struggles like these before. The still-young superstar has never endured them.

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Fancy Stats: Bryce Harper is having some issues at the plate. Like, a lot of issues.

3 Up, 3 Down: Allow Juan Soto to distract you from Bryce Harper

3 Up, 3 Down: Allow Juan Soto to distract you from Bryce Harper

Nationals fans are teetering on the edge. 

On one hand, the Nats are 3.5 games out of first place after a 10-week span full of injuries and underperformance. The team just acquired All-Star closer Kelvin Herrera, and their 19-year-old left fielder looks like an All-Star already. 

On the other hand, doom is imminent. The Monstars stole Bryce Harper‘s abilities at some point over the last three weeks, Steven Strasburg can’t stay healthy, and the offense is pushing everyone’s patience to the limit. 

So who’s overperforming? Who’s underperforming? Who’s out there just trying their very best? LET’S LIST. 

Three Up

1. Juan Soto

Our large young son Juan continues to impress. He’s now hitting .325/.411/.602 with a 1.013 OPS in 95 plate appearances over 25 games. That means we’re mercifully starting to leave the ‘fluky start’ narrative behind. He’s been the best hitter on the Nationals by a wide margain since he got called up – although that’s perhaps more of an indicitment on the rest of the lineup than it is on Soto. Still, in less than a month he’s probably earned the starting left field spot for the rest of the summer. Not bad. 

2. Justin Miller

Miller is 31, on his third team in four years, and owns a career ERA north of 4.50. Despite all of this, Miller’s been the best reliever in baseball since coming up for the Nats. Of relief pitchers with at least 10 innings pitched (we hear your sample size comment and are not going to acknolwdge it), no one has a better FIP than Miller (0.64). He’s striking out over half of the batters he sees and has yet to walk a single person this year. All the elite relief pitchers are already at 30-40 innings pitched, so Miller has a while to go before these stats mean a whole lot. If he stays even 75 percent as good as he’s started, the Nats’ bullpen looks scary. 

3. Michael A. Taylor

Have yourself a week or two, Michael A.! The centerfielder is slashing .500/.556/.583 over the last 14 days, the first of many “Maybe He Put It Together?!” runs we’ll see from him this year. He also has six stolen bases during that span, more than anyone else on the team. His plate discipline has been better over the last two weeks, with a BB% a shade over 11 percent – only behind Juan Soto for highest on the team. Juan Soto, man. 

Three Down

1. Bryce Harper

A couple things here. We’ll start with the admission that Bryce Harper is obviously not having a superb year. We’ve already briefly touched on why looking at only his batting average is a lazy way of judging his season, and we stand by that. With that said – Harper’s had a bad season. The last month has been particularly painful. There’s no way of dressing up a .189/.278/.400 slashline over the last 30 days. Still, his contact has been as great as his luck terrible – there’s a positive regression coming, we promise. 

2. Pedro Severino 

And you think Harper’s been slumping?? Over the same 30 days, Severino has hit .098/.179/.115 with a .294 OPS. He’s essentially daring the Nats to put together a trade package for JT Realmuto at this point. He has six hits over his last 68 plate appearances and five of them are singles. 

3. Shawn Kelley

Kelley owns a 6.09 FIP and a 4.32 ERA over the last month (10 games, 8.1 innings pitched). He’s walking close to nine percent of the hitters he’s faced during that time. He has a 12.5 HR/FB over the last month. With the trade for Kelvin Herrera and the sudden emergence of Justin Miller, Kelley’s role going forward isn’t quite clear anymore. 

MORE NATS NEWS:

Bryce Harper looks like a different person after shaving his beard

Bryce Harper looks like a different person after shaving his beard

Baseball players are incredibly superstitious. When things aren’t going their way, don’t be surprised to see them mixing it up. Even altering something that has no bearing on the game could be the thing that gets them going.

That’s the only explanation we have for why Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper shaved his beard before Monday’s game. It must be his way of trying to break out of his season-long slump.

What happened?

Prior to Monday’s game against the New York Yankees, Jamal Collier of MLB.com let the world know Harper’s beard was gone. When he walked up to the plate for the first time, here’s what Harper looked like:

Why did he shave the beard?

Our best guess is that Harper is changing things up off the field so he can change his results on the field. While he’s hit for power and shown patience at the plate, his average is just .217 this season. It could be a superstitious thing, or maybe Harper just wanted to change his look. It is starting to get hot on the East Coast.

Are there any conspiracy theories about this?

Harper picked a curious time to shave his beard. With the Nationals playing the Yankees, some have tossed out conspiracy theories that the move was strategic. By shaving his beard, Harper is showing the Yankees he wants to play for them next season. Is that far-fetched? Yeah. Is that going to stop people from saying it? Nope.

Is it going to help?

As far as we know, a beard doesn’t have an impact on baseball performance. If Harper gets back on track, it’s likely due to other factors.

Harper did strike out during his first time up Monday, so the extremely small sample size isn’t doing him any favors.

It’s been a long time since Bryce Harper was beardless. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

– – – – – – –

Chris Cwik is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter!

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Meet Juan Soto: The 19-Year-Old MLB Phenom Who Could Replace Bryce Harper

Meet Juan Soto: The 19-Year-Old MLB Phenom Who Could Replace Bryce Harper

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 13: Juan Soto #22 of the Washington Nationals follows through on his seventh inning home run against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on June 13, 2018 in the Bronx borough of New York City. The Nationals defeated the Yankees 5-4. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

B/R

You can start with the home run, the one that soared over a bullpen at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday. You can start there, because balls don’t go to that part of Yankee Stadium very often, especially when they’re hit by 19-year-old kids. Especially when they’re hit by a left-handed hitter off a left-handed pitcher.

Soto did that, 20 games into his major league career.

The Washington Nationals‘ phenomenal young outfielder actually hit two home runs in that game, becoming just the fourth teenager in the last 50 years to homer twice in the same game, according to research via Baseball Reference. You may have heard of the other three: Bryce Harper, Andruw Jones and Ken Griffey Jr.

So start with the home run, but don’t end there, because if you do you’ll miss so much of what makes Soto “special,” to use the word repeated so often by Nationals players, coaches and front office officials. It’s not usual for a 19-year-old to do the things Soto is already doing for the Nationals, but Soto is not your usual 19-year-old.

“This kid’s just different,” said Johnny DiPuglia, Nationals vice president of international operations and perhaps the biggest of Soto’s many big boosters. “He’s different in every area of life.”

Different, because he learned English from Rosetta Stone faster than any Latin American prospect the Nationals have ever had. Different because he went from the Low-A South Atlantic League to the majors in less than a month, which has to be a record, too, or at least close to it. Different because when the Nationals asked him to work on getting faster, he went from being a far-below-average runner to one who is now above average.

There’s more, from a swing that Nationals hitting coach Kevin Long describes as one of the best he’s ever seen—”I’m sure he’ll struggle some, but it will be hard for him to go through anything for long because his swing is so good,” Long said—to the way Soto prepares for games, the way he carries himself in the clubhouse, the way he carries himself on the field and even to the way he looks.

“No tattoos, no earrings and a clean haircut,” DiPuglia said.

That may matter to you or it may not, but in 2018, it does make Soto different.

But the biggest difference is how quickly he got to where he is and how well he’s already doing. He’s the youngest player in the major leagues in six years (since Harper and Jurickson Profar debuted in 2012, when they were a dozen days younger than Soto was at the time of his May 20 call-up, per research via Baseball Reference).

“I mean, 19?” Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer told B/R. “I was a freshman in college. Maybe by 21 I could have played in the big leagues, maybe a little bit, but not the way he’s doing it.”

So far, Soto in 2018 is like Harper in 2012. That year, Harper debuted in the big leagues at the end of April, was in the All-Star Game in the middle of July and was named Rookie of the Year when the season ended. Six years later, Soto could be on the same path.

Juan Soto's emergence alongside Bryce Harper has helped give the Nationals one of the most potent outfields in the National League.

Juan Soto’s emergence alongside Bryce Harper has helped give the Nationals one of the most potent outfields in the National League.Nick Wass/Associated Press

“He’s doing a great job for us,” Harper said. “He’s going to be a great player. I look forward to seeing him play for a long time.”

But will he?


The question no one from the Nationals, least of all Harper, wants to hear is where he’ll be playing next season. Harper made it clear in spring training he wouldn’t discuss his impending free agency during the season, and he has stuck to that policy.

There was a time when many people in baseball considered it a given Harper would leave the Nationals, but recently there has been more talk that he could stay. Jon Heyman of FRS Sports wrote in late May and early June that one Harper teammate and one rival general manager predicted he’ll re-sign.

According to Heyman, there’s no talk of in-season negotiations, so it’s hard for anyone to know whether Harper will go, but it may not be as safe an assumption as it once was.

None of it really matters to Soto’s future. Either he plays with Harper, as he’s doing now, or he takes Harper’s place as the Nationals’ big-hitting outfielder.

If he hasn’t already.

Admittedly, it’s not fair to think that way or to talk that way, even if Soto is outperforming his better-known teammate right now. The teenage phenom still doesn’t have a full month in the big leagues. Harper is a five-time All-Star and one-time Most Valuable Player who is still just 25 and already has 169 major league home runs. Harper’s batting average has slipped, but through Sunday, he was leading the National League with 19 home runs.

Harper’s still a huge star and hugely important to the Nationals. Soto is 19.

Believe it or not.


“He’s a grown man in a kid’s body,” Nationals pitcher Gio Gonzalez said. “He’s such a professional already.”

Of all the things that impress about Soto, the one trait most Nationals people keep coming back to is his maturity. He just doesn’t act like a typical 19-year-old.

Part of that is the way he carries himself, with a self-confidence that never seems to stray into youthful bravado. Some of it is the way he seems to understand the game, the way he gets ready to play and the way he reacts if anything goes wrong.

As impressed as the Nationals have been with Soto's hitting, they've been equally struck by his presence.

As impressed as the Nationals have been with Soto’s hitting, they’ve been equally struck by his presence.Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

“Just watch how he handles bad calls from umpires,” Nats bench coach Chip Hale said. “He might be called out on a bad pitch, but he goes back to the bench and starts rooting for his teammates.”

Long was struck by the fact that when Soto showed up in the big leagues, he already had a set pregame routine. He hit off a tee, did one drill in which he brings the knob of the bat to the ball and another that is designed to help get his hips moving.

“His swing mechanics are flawless,” Long said. “I marvel at what he can do at this age. I haven’t had much experience with 19-year-olds, but I’ve been around long enough to tell you that’s as good a swing as I’ve seen.”

Many young hitters, even great young hitters, are basically see-the-ball, hit-the-ball types. Soto is different, already showing the ability to adjust to how pitchers attack him, already able to make use of the resources available in a modern big league clubhouse.

“He looks at video,” DiPuglia said. “At his age, most kids only look at video games.”

And he can communicate with coaches, teammates and even with the media in English, after that Rosetta Stone crash course.

“That’s very important for me,” said Soto, a native of the Dominican Republic. “I tried to learn as fast as I could.”

He still likes to have an interpreter around for interviews, just in case he doesn’t fully understand a question. But in a nine-minute conversation with Bleacher Report, Soto didn’t need to consult the interpreter a single time.

He speaks clearly and confidently enough that he has already done interviews in English for the Nationals’ pregame radio show.


As ready as he appears, Soto wasn’t supposed to be in the major leagues this soon. He almost certainly wouldn’t have been, except for a string of injuries Nationals outfielders suffered in the early weeks of the season.

Adam Eaton got hurt. Brian Goodwin got hurt. In Triple-A, Victor Robles suffered a hyperextended left elbow, taking him out of the picture as a possible replacement.

When Howie Kendrick went down with a right Achilles injury May 19, the Nats were nearly out of internal options. General manager Mike Rizzo could have considered looking to trade for a stopgap. Instead, even as Kendrick was riding off the field on a cart, Rizzo was reaching for his phone to call assistant general manager Doug Harris, who oversees the Nationals farm system.

Get Soto to Washington, Rizzo said.

It didn’t matter that Soto had played just eight games at Double-A Harrisburg after starting the season with Low-A Hagerstown and winning a quick promotion to High-A Potomac. Nor did it matter that Soto played just 32 games in 2017 because of first a broken ankle and then surgery on his right hand.

What mattered was the Nationals had a need and that they believed Soto could handle the challenge.

“We actually had kept a really close eye on him,” manager Dave Martinez said. “We watched him [on video], and Mike and I both thought he was ready.”

They felt Soto had a chance, in part because he always showed an ability to control the strike zone. He had more walks (29) than strikeouts (28) in the minor leagues this season, just as he had in his limited time last year.

Rizzo also felt Soto could help a team that began with huge expectations but was sitting in third place in the NL East, just four games over .500 when he arrived.

“I was looking for a jump-start, to bring some life and energy, some exuberance into the ballclub,” he said.

Soto brought more than that. The Nationals won eight of the first nine games he started, helped in large part by the .387 he hit in those games.

“I just had in my mind that I was going to do my job and help the team out,” Soto said.

When Eaton came back from the disabled list June 9, there was never a chance Soto would be sent back to the minor leagues. He was playing too well. He had become too important to the team. The Nationals have four outfielders they want to play (Soto, Harper, Eaton and Michael A. Taylor), but it’s clear now Soto is and will remain an everyday guy.

Soto played only eight games at Double-A Harrisburg before he was promoted to help plug the holes in a Nationals outfield depleted by injuries.

Soto played only eight games at Double-A Harrisburg before he was promoted to help plug the holes in a Nationals outfield depleted by injuries.Photo courtesy Washington Nationals

“He took advantage,” first baseman Mark Reynolds said. “He’s playing like he doesn’t want to go play anywhere else.”


Soto said he always loved to hit, but he was pitching when Nationals scout Modesto Ulloa first went to see him. Ulloa watched him throw three innings in the first game of a doubleheader. In the second game, Soto got three hits. Ulloa took notice.

Eventually, more Nationals scouts went to see him. Rizzo traveled to the Dominican Republic to get a look himself, because to sign him the Nationals had to hand out a $1.5 million bonus, which at the time was a club record. It wasn’t close to the $3.9 million the Toronto Blue Jays gave Vladimir Guerrero Jr. that same month, but it was still a significant commitment to a kid DiPuglia described as “bow-legged, thin, not a good runner and didn’t throw well. But the bat was a special bat.”

It wasn’t just that, though, that struck the Nationals’ decision-makers.

“When we went down there [to the Dominican Republic], I saw him play for several days,” Rizzo said. “I got to sit and talk with him, got to interact with him. We knew where he came from. We saw a really clean-cut, businesslike type of personality that was educated, book-smart, but also his baseball IQ was as good as any 16½-year-old that I’ve ever signed.”

On July 2, 2015, Soto became a member of the organization. His minor league debut came the following year, and, as a 17-year-old, he hit .368 with a .973 OPS in 51 games in the low minors and was named Most Valuable Player in the Gulf Coast League. There was already a buzz about him going into 2017, but then came the injuries that cost him most of the season. Soto returned to play in instructional league games, which got the Nationals excited again as the club headed to spring training this year.

He wasn’t in the major league camp, but the Nationals brought him over for five Grapefruit League games. He got one start, in a split-squad game in Jupiter against the Miami Marlins. Though the other split-squad game was at home in West Palm Beach, Rizzo made the short drive to watch the road game.

As teammate Max Scherzer said, Soto "just hits. Every now and then, you can just say a guy has a knack for hitting the baseball."

As teammate Max Scherzer said, Soto “just hits. Every now and then, you can just say a guy has a knack for hitting the baseball.”Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

He wanted to see Soto against left-hander Caleb Smith, who started for the Marlins. Soto didn’t disappoint, collecting two hits, including a long home run off Smith.

“I’m glad I was there,” Rizzo said.

The Nationals sent Soto to the South Atlantic League to begin the season, but they expected him to move quickly. And while no one could have predicted he’d be in the big leagues by May, the thought he could help sometime this season was very much in the minds of the Nationals brass.

It was in Soto’s, too.

“Yes, but they had to make the decision,” he said. “I saw a couple of other guys [playing in the big leagues at a young age]. I said, ‘Why not?'”

Why not, indeed.


There are plenty of numbers that tell how well Soto did in his first 23 major league games. There’s the .312 batting average, the five home runs, the .976 OPS, the .385 batting average in 31 plate appearances against lefties.

There’s also 27.2, which is Soto’s average sprint speed in feet per second, as measured by MLB.com’s Statcast. He has been clocked as fast as 29.3 feet per second, which is just a touch below elite-level speed, and he has gone from home to first in as little as 4.03 seconds.

That isn’t Robles-type speed—which led all of MLB at 30.9 feet per second in 2017—but it’s not the bow-legged plodding he was doing at 16.

“I never thought he’d do that,” DiPuglia said.

Soto was always seen as a good hitter, but he's made himself a better runner, too.

Soto was always seen as a good hitter, but he’s made himself a better runner, too.Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

The Nationals had asked Soto to work on getting faster and stronger, and he took it to heart. This past winter in the Dominican Republic, he hit the weight room and also ran on the beach and elsewhere with a personal trainer.

“I worked a lot,” he said. “I got a lot faster than I was a couple years ago.”

Considering all he’s been willing to do to get to Washington, and all he’s accomplished since he arrived, it’s easy to imagine Soto becoming one of the game’s biggest stars. It’s easy to imagine him becoming the face of the Nationals if Harper moves on or perhaps even if he doesn’t.

Heck, with what Soto is already doing at 19, it’s easy to imagine him having a major impact on how this season turns out.

“Think of [Miguel Cabrera] with the 2003 Marlins,” one National League scout said. “Or Andruw with the 1996 Braves. They took their teams to the World Series.”

Cabrera had just turned 20 when he debuted with the Marlins in June 2003. Jones was 19 when the Braves brought him to the big leagues in August 1996.

“[Former major league player and broadcaster] Joe Garagiola taught me a long time ago there’s no time limit on talent,” Rizzo said.

Some players are just different. Some are special, from the first time you see them.

Look at Juan Soto. He’s one of the special ones.

   

Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Danny on Twitter and talk baseball.

Harper is playing his way out of $400M deal

Harper is playing his way out of $400M deal

The Blue Jays beat the Nationals 8-6 on Sunday with back-to-back home runs in the bottom of the eighth inning from Teoscar Hernandez and Yangervis Solarte off Ryan Madson, who hadn’t allowed a home run all season and just two in 2017 and 2018 combined:

Bryce Harper did not have a good day for the Nationals, going 0-for-5:

• Struck out swinging in the first inning on three pitches.

• Grounded out to second base leading off the third.

• Flied out to right field leading off the fifth.

• Struck out swinging leading off the seventh.

• With the game tied 6-6 in the eighth, flew out to center field with two outs and the bases loaded.

He failed to get on base three times while leading off an inning and missed an opportunity to deliver the go-ahead hit. He’s now hitting .217/.355/.479 and ranks 53rd out of 159 qualified hitters in wOBA. Look, it has hardly been a disaster of a season. He still leads the National League with 19 home runs, is second in the majors to Mike Trout in walks and is on pace for 98 runs and 102 RBIs.

Nonetheless, $400 million ballplayers shouldn’t hit .217. And remember, this is all after a blazing start in which he hit .315 with eight home runs in his first 17 games. Since then, over two months, he has hit .188/.308/.392.

Meanwhile, the Nationals have lost five out of six to fall from a first-place tie to 3 1/2 games behind the Braves. The Nationals need Harper to be Bryce Harper, face of baseball, not Bryce Harper, just another guy in the lineup.

What’s going on? For starters, he’s getting killed on ground balls:

2015: .257 average on ground balls

2016: .213 average

2017: .359 average

2018: .171 average

That’s 12-for-70 with just one extra-base hit. And, yes, that’s a lot of grounders pulled into the shift — in part because he’s pulling a lot more grounders. Check his percentage of ground balls to the right side:

2015: 54.6 percent

2016: 51.2 percent

2017: 48.1 percent

2018: 72.9 percent

Just 4.3 percent of his ground balls have gone to left field, compared to 18.3 percent last season. Of course, Harper isn’t trying to hit grounders to left field; he’s trying to hit home runs. When he does manage to lift the ball, he has been amazing, with an OPS over 2.000 (compared to 1.006 last season). He has certainly hit into some bad luck on line drives, hitting .465 with a 1.096 OPS compared to .722 with a 1.895 OPS over the previous three seasons on line drives.

Some have suggested that Harper’s swing, with all that coiled violence, makes it easy for him to fall into bad habits, especially pulling off the ball. One thing that’s interesting to me, however, is that Harper’s slump coincides with less plate discipline. Harper sees the fewest percentage of pitches in the strike zone of any hitter in the majors, but check the decline in his walk rate:

Through April: 29.0 percent walk rate, 25.1 percent chase rate

Since May 1: 7.7 percent walk rate, 30.6 percent chase rate

The walk rate isn’t all related to the chase rate; as he has struggled, pitchers are throwing more pitches in the zone (38.8 percent in April, but over 46 percent so far in June). Maybe that’s the biggest concern of all: Pitchers are less afraid of Harper than they were two months ago.

Happy Father’s Day to Jose Trevino: Rangers backup catcher Jose Trevino had a week to remember. First, the former fourth-round draft pick was called up to the majors from Double-A. Then his son was born. And on Sunday, he delivered a two-run walk-off single — his second major league hit — in a wild 13-12 win over the Rockies, leading to an emotional postgame interview:

Two takeaways from this game concerning the Rockies:

1. Rockies starter Jon Gray continues to rack up the strikeouts — nine in five innings — but also the runs allowed, as he gave up six to see his ERA balloon to 5.89. This isn’t just a Coors Field thing, as his road ERA is 5.40. He’s averaging 11.1 K’s per nine innings, but when he’s not striking batters out, he’s getting hammered. His rate stats also take a huge dip with runners on base:

Bases empty: .718 OPS, 36.0 percent K rate, 5.0 percent BB rate

Runners on: .873 OPS, 17.3 percent K rate, 10.5 percent BB rate

Gray didn’t have this problem last year (his OPS against actually was lower with runners on), so you have to wonder if there’s some sort of mechanical issue he has fallen into.

2. The Rockies’ bullpen has some issues. Wade Davis was the goat on Sunday, with four walks in the ninth, but the entire pen minus Adam Ottavino (0.89) has struggled … and remember where the Rockies spent their money in the offseason:

Worst bullpen ERAs, Rockies history:

1999: 5.72

2000: 5.53

2018: 5.49

1996: 5.45

1993: 5.36

So we have this season and four years from the pre-humidor days. The bullpen had a 4.40 ERA last season. Davis now has four blown saves, matching his combined total over the past two seasons.

Billy Hamilton with a catch of the year candidate: According to Statcast metrics, this play had a 2 percent catch probability:

The Reds beat the Pirates 8-6, and while Hamilton had three hits, he’s still hitting just .197/.285/.282. With that kind of offensive production, Hamilton simply isn’t viable as a regular center fielder. He could be an attractive bench player come October, however, especially since teams can in theory carry one fewer pitcher and add an extra position player. Hamilton could serve as a pinch runner extraordinaire or defensive replacement. I could see the Mariners or Indians being interested in getting him at the trade deadline. (It’s a little harder for an NL team to carry him because you need pinch hitters off the bench.)

Astros’ win streak up to 11: Houston beat the Royals 7-4 with three runs in the eighth inning and another in the ninth, with Carlos Correa hitting a game-tying homer in the eighth and red-hot Evan Gattis singling in the go-ahead run. Oh, this 11-game streak: The final 10 wins all came on the road as the Astros completed a perfect road trip to Texas, Oakland and Kansas City. It’s the sixth perfect road of at least 10 games in the past 65 years (although the Indians had an 11-0 road trip just last season).

The Mariners have gone 10-3 since they split a two-game series with Houston last week — and have gone from a game up in the AL West to 1 1/2 behind. The Astros return home for nine games against the Rays, Royals and Blue Jays. Can you say 20?

Comeback of the day: The Diamondbacks led the Mets 3-1 in the top of the ninth, two outs, nobody on base, Brad Boxberger trying to close it. Then this happened:

Jose Reyes: Bunt single

Jose Bautista: Double

Brandon Nimmo: Three-run homer

Asdrubal Cabrera: Home run

Nimmo has been one of the few bright spots in a tough season for the Mets, and he’s now hitting .274/.402/.565 and adding power to his good eye at the plate. He’s starting to look like the real deal, has quickly become a fan favorite, is regarded as one of the nicest guys in the game and could be developing into a team leader. Now the Mets just have to turn this two-game winning streak into three, then into four, then into …

MLB officials have reportedly contacted Bryce Harper about participating in home run derby

MLB officials have reportedly contacted Bryce Harper about participating in home run derby

MLB wants Bryce Harper to enter this year’s home run derby.

League officials have reached out to Harper to discuss his participation in the event, according to a report from FanRag Sports. MLB has not pressured Harper to commit to the derby — which will take place in his home ballpark — the report says.

MLB is worried stars like Harper, J.D. Martinez, Mookie Betts, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton may not participate in this year’s home run derby, according to the report.

Harper has only entered the derby once, at Citi Field in 2013. He was defeated by Yoenis Cespedes in the finals that year.

The 2018 home run derby and All-Star Game will be held July 16-17 at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. Harper, a five-time All-Star, has hit .224 with 43 RBIs and an NL-leading 19 home runs this season.