Bryce joins Cruz atop homer leaderboard

Bryce joins Cruz atop homer leaderboard

CHICAGO -- Right-hander Max Scherzer had a pretty good performance on Wednesday night, with seven shutout innings and 13 strikeouts, but he was most enthusiastic during his postgame news conference about teammate Bryce Harper.

The 22-year-old Harper hit his 18th home run in the Nationals' 3-0 victory over the Cubs -- a solo shot to left field off left-hander Jon Lester -- and now is tied with the Mariners' Nelson Cruz for the Major League lead.

"What he's doing at the plate, that's just special stuff," Scherzer said. "I've seen a lot of great hitters, played with some really, really good ones, and the best ones are able to go opposite field with power. And we're starting to see that from him. We're starting to see his approach and plan, and that's the elite stuff.

"I think that's the best thing we can see from him, just how much he is getting better. As [much as] he's doing right, I still feel like he can get better. That's the crazy thing -- that's the scary thing. This guy is going to continue to get better throughout the whole year, so keep watching."

Harper's homer to lead off the sixth inning was crucial, because it increased the Nats' lead from one run to two. And with Scherzer and Lester throwing darts, that one run was big.

"Harper had a great at-bat against [Lester] and hit one the other way," manager Matt Williams said. "We've got to scratch and claw against guys like that, and tonight we did. And we had just enough."

Harper was asked after the game if his patient approach at the plate in April has provided him with more opportunities in May. It's a good question, considering Wednesday's homer was his 13th of the month, but it apparently is not something he considered -- or will consider any time soon.

"I'm just trying to go in there every day and have the same plan," Harper said. "I'm just trying to go up there and have good [at-bats] and stay as locked in as I can. If I'm having good at-bats and seeing pitches, that's all that matters."

No one's about to argue with that.

"He has power to all fields, and that's what makes him so dangerous," Lester said. "You can't just play to pull or whatever. You have to continue to try to make pitches down and hope he beats it into the ground. If he gets a hit, he gets a hit, and you move on. Obviously, to try to keep the ball in the ballpark is key, and I elevated it a little bit and he put a good swing on it."

John Jackson is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.