Bill Ladson

Hot start earns Harper NL Player of the Month

Hot start earns Harper NL Player of the Month

KANSAS CITY -- After having a season for the ages in 2015, Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper is proving he still has the magic touch this year, as he was the named the National League Player of the Month for April on Monday.

Harper hit .286 with a .406 on-base percentage and a .714 slugging percentage (best in MLB) in 23 April games. During that that period, he drove in an MLB-best 24 runs, hit nine home runs (third in MLB), stole five bases and struck out just 13 times in 96 plate appearances. Six of those 24 RBIs gave the Nationals a lead, and three of the 24 won the game for Washington, which posted a 16-7 record in the season's opening month.

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The accolades are nice for Harper, but he loves the fact that the Nationals are doing well. Entering Monday's action, they were leading the NL East, 1 1/2 games ahead of the Mets.

"I think it's great. But as a team, we are doing what we are doing," Harper said. "I think every single day, we are approaching the game the right way, we are winning ballgames. That's the best part. The personal accolades are great. As a team, we are doing a great job."

Harper's best moment came April 14, when he hit his 100th career home run, a grand slam off Braves right-hander Julio Teheran in the third inning at Nationals Park. Harper became the eighth-youngest player in Major League history to reach 100 home runs. Harper became the third player in Nationals history -- Ian Desmond and Ryan Zimmerman are the others -- with 100 homers.

Harper's grand slam

Harper then found himself right at home in Philadelphia, joining Ernie Banks (1955) as the only visiting player in modern MLB history to hit a home run in six straight games in Philly. Harper's home run streak dates back to 2015, and in 31 career games at Citizens Bank Park, Harper is now hitting .325 with 11 home runs, 23 RBIs and 12 walks.

Harper also hit his first career pinch-hit homer against the Twins in the ninth inning on April 24. The Nationals ended up winning the game in 16 innings.

"It's something you try to apply to every single day," Harper said about what he accomplished this month. "But if you are winning ballgames, that's all that matters. ... I have the right mindset every single day. You walk into the box and just have fun, enjoy the game. That's what we are doing as a team, and that's what I'm doing as well. I'm going to take it one game at a time, one at-bat at a time and keep going with it."

Manager Dusty Baker didn't know that Harper was honored for the month of April until a reporter gave him the news during his meeting with the local media.

"That's pretty cool. We should try to pick him up this month," Baker said. "He is going to come out of his slump real soon."

This is the second Player of the Month award of Harper's career (May 2015), and the 10th Pitcher/Player monthly honor for the Nationals' organization. Harper is the third repeat monthly winner, joining Jayson Werth, who took home the July Player of the Month honors in 2013 and '14, and Max Scherzer, who earned back-to-back Pitcher of the Month nods in May and June 2015. Other Nationals who have earned a monthly award are Chad Cordero (June 2005), Stephen Strasburg (April '12), Gio Gonzalez (May '12) and Jordan Zimmermann (July '12).

Bill Ladson has covered the Nationals/Expos for since 2002. He writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.