Bryce Harper started the season strong for the Washington Nationals, providing the spark that they needed when the injury bug hit the team. However, since the All-Star break it seems as though the phenom sensation has hit a bit of a wall and will find himself on the bench again on Saturday night.
According to Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post, Harper will get Saturday night off in favor of Tyler Moore. This will be Harper's second game off in the last three. Moore has had a nice season to this point, with a .296 average entering Saturday night's game.
Nationals manager Davey Johnson revealed the decision after Washington's seventh consecutive win on Friday night, telling Amanda Comak of The Washington Times,
I might as well tell you now, I'm going to get Tyler Moore in the lineup because once Werth got here I haven't had that opportunity. There's nothing wrong with Bryce. He played a good game and he'll play the day game against the left-hander. I'm just telling you up front now so I don't have to hear all this crap tomorrow.
Harper has struggled mightily after the All-Star break, batting a painful .173 (18-for-104) while only getting four extra-base hits. He has also struck out 27 times in the 26 games that he has started. The trend has to change for Harper if he wants to stay in the everyday lineup, especially with Werth's return and Moore's productivity.
Despite Harper's struggles, the Nationals have become the first team in the majors to win 70 games in 2012, roaring to a 70-43 record and a 4.5-game lead in the NL East. Even with their current success, it is imperative that Harper's bat heats up down the stretch if they want to maintain their lead and become a powerful force in the playoffs.
Harper was a huge contributor in keeping this team successful earlier in the season; now the rest of the team is picking him up while he struggles. Should Harper get hot again, and Werth, Ryan Zimmerman and the rest of the Nationals keep it up going forward, they will be a hard team to beat in October.