Bryce Harper began his major league career on April 28 last year with huge expectation


He was the first overall pick in the 2010 draft and starred at every level he played in before that.

Harper had slumps last season with the Washington Nationals, but was still able to hit .270 with 22 home runs, 59 RBIs and 18 stolen bases in 139 games to earn the National League Rookie of the Year award.

Would 2013 become a sophomore jinx?

Not so far.

Going into his one-year anniversary date on Sunday, Harper was batting .373 with nine homers, 18 RBIs and a .453 on-base percentage. He ranked second in the majors in homers and on-base percentage; third in hitting and first in slugging percentage.

There was no doubt that Harper was going to reach the major leagues when he started playing at Triple-A Syracuse last year. But he was batting just .243 in his first 21 games when the Nationals called him up.

In his big league debut, Harper went 1-for-3 in a 4-3 road loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“I really didn’t have butterflies at all,” Harper said after the game. “I think that’s one of the first times I’ve never gotten butterflies. I was sitting in the dugout before the game and I was thinking to myself: ‘Wow, I’m in the big leagues.’”

After his batting average peaked at .307 following a 3-for-4 game against Toronto on June 12 of last year, Harper’s hitting went south. His average dropped to .245 following a 3-for-32 slump with no homers and two RBIs. He went 0-for-8 in two games against San Francisco.

But Harper rebounded in September to hit .330 for the month, including 11 multi-hit games.

He had 12 multi-hit games in April of this year through 23 games going into Sunday’s contest.

Even when he’s not up to par physically, Harper is still dangerous. In a game on April 17 at Miami, Harper had four hits in five at-bats while recovering from the flu.

“I didn’t feel very good at all,” Harper said. “Getting in the box and swinging made my head spin a little bit. I wanted to play. I thought I could help the team win. I didn’t really care if I was sick or not.”

In Saturday’s game against Cincinnati, on the one-year anniversary of his call-up to the majors, Harper hit a two-run homer in the fourth inning to give the Nationals a 6-1 lead en route to a 6-3 win. He reached base three times, scoring two runs.

Harper has set team records for most home runs and RBIs in April, and leads the Nationals in every major offensive category.

“And if you know him, he probably (thinks) he’s having an off-year right now,” Washington manager Davey Johnson said. “He expects a lot of himself, and that’s a good trait.”

StatsWatch: Here are the top-10 pitching staffs in the major leagues, with the lowest Earned Run Averages (through Monday) —

  • Rangers, 3.02 ERA
  • Cardinals, 3.24
  • Braves, 3.24
  • Reds, 3.31
  • Royals, 3.36
  • Red Sox, 3.39
  • Cubs, 3.41
  • Diamondbacks, 3.41
  • Pirates, 3.57
  • White Sox, 3.60

Diamond Notes: Pittsburgh left-hander Jonathan Sanchez has been suspended for six games and fined for hitting the Cardinals’ Allen Craig with a pitch last Friday. Sanchez allowed a pair of home runs and a single to begin the first inning before hitting Craig in the shoulder. Umpire Tim Timmons ejected Sanchez. Sanchez was expected to appeal the suspension…After completing a 25-game suspension, Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz was activated on Sunday from the restricted list. Ruiz was suspended for testing positive for an amphetamine. He had a career year last season, hitting .325 with 16 homers and 68 RBIs…Toronto right-hander Josh Johnson is expected back in the rotation later this week after being scratched on Friday due to tightness in his right triceps. Johnson is 0-1 with a 6.86 ERA in four starts since being acquired in an offseason trade with the Marlins.

Copyright © 2013 Bob Hurst. All Rights Reserved. Distributed by Hurst Sports Media.

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