WASHINGTON — By the time Bryce Harper gets to the plate at the All-Star Game, Max Scherzer could already be done.
Harper is batting sixth in his fifth All-Star start, the lowest he has been in the National League lineup since the No. 9 spot in 2013. Scherzer getting the start against Boston's Chris Sale is no surprise as the hometown ace, but Harper faces a much different dynamic knowing this could be the final time he's honoured on a big stage by Nationals fans when he trots out to centre field on Tuesday night.
In a contract year that could be his last with Washington, Harper is hitting .214 with a .365 on-base percentage, .468 slugging percentage, 23 home runs and 54 RBIs. That batting average is 60 points lower than the next-closest NL All-Star hitter, while his HR total is one shy of the league lead.
"I look up there and see my average as well, and I look up there and go, 'Aw man, well that sucks,'" Harper said Monday. "But I look over a little bit to the right side of that and see 23 homers and (54) RBIs and 80 walks and runs scored and stuff like that. I don't know.
"Should I be hitting .300 or .280? Yeah, absolutely. But I guess I am where I'm at, and hopefully the only way I can go is up."
Harper reiterated it's no secret he's in the final year of his contract and brushed aside a question about trimming his beard last month when the New York Yankees came to town. Fans chanted "Let's go Harper!" throughout the Home Run Derby on Monday night as he hit 19 home runs in the final to win it.
Even with the crowd embracing Harper, his future is a shadow hanging over the first All-Star festivities in Washington since 1969.
"Everybody knew that at the beginning of the year this could be possibly my last year in D.C.," Harper said. "There's no elephant in the room. Everybody knows that that's a possibility. But I'm not really focused on that. I'm focused on what I can do to help the team win on a daily basis."
Scherzer was a no-brainer choice given his 12 victories, 2.41 ERA, NL-best 182 strikeouts and the game being in Washington. NL manager Dave Roberts of the Los Angeles Dodgers complimented New York Mets right-hander Jacob deGrom, who will get the ball second, but said the setting was the tiebreaker.
"It's his city. It's his ballpark," Roberts said. "I've always tried to make things bigger than me and the club. And I think that Max, for the game of baseball, for our country, he's the right guy to take the baseball."
Red Sox left-hander Chris Sale opens for the American League as he and Scherzer join 13 other pitchers who have started three All-Star Games. Sale is starting for the third consecutive time and is the third player to do that, following Lefty Gomez and Robin Roberts.
Each pitcher made his first All-Star start with a different team — Sale for the White Sox and Scherzer for the Tigers — and has now gotten the nod in back-to-back years. It's the first time the same set of pitchers started the game two years in a row since 1939 and 1940; Paul Derringer and Red Ruffing.
When asked what each admired about the other, Scherzer said: "I think we said this last year."
Sale's Boston teammate Mookie Betts leads off for the AL, followed by the Astros' Jose Altuve, Angels' Mike Trout, Red Sox's J.D. Martinez, Indians' Jose Ramirez, Yankees' Aaron Judge, Orioles' Manny Machado , White Sox's Jose Abreu and Royals' Salvador Perez.
Cubs second baseman Javier Baez leads off for the NL, followed by the Rockies' Nolan Arenado, Diamondbacks' Paul Goldschmidt, Braves' Freddie Freeman, Dodgers' Matt Kemp, Harper, Braves' Nick Markakis, Giants' Brandon Crawford and Cubs' Willson Contreras.
Harper hit third, second and third in his past three All-Star Games and has bounced around the Nationals' lineup during his rough season that's attracting attention around baseball. Retired outfielder Torii Hunter, who was in town to manage in the Futures Game , believes Harper must adjust his mindset.
"I don't know if his mind (is) into just hit home runs and 'chicks dig the long ball' type deal, but I definitely think this guy could hit .330," Hunter said. "If you're a competitor, you want no weaknesses. So if Bryce Harper sees that he's hitting .214, his job is like, 'OK, what am I doing mentally? What am I thinking or what am I feeling?' Figure out what's going on so you can become a complete player."
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