'A National now,' Harper dodges free-agency talk


WASHINGTON — Bryce Harper didn’t walk out the door. But he didn’t walk into a trap either.

“I’m a National now,” Harper said Tuesday, when asked about his future prior to Washington‘s series opener against the visiting New York Yankees. “We’re going into the series trying to win some ballgames. That’s the only thing on my mind. Just trying to beat a good team over there.”

New York, which came here with the best record in baseball (28-12), has long been considered a potential destination for Harper, whose contract expires after this season. Even though the Yankees acquired reigning MVP Giancarlo Stanton in December, they’re still one of several teams thought to be among the primary contenders for Harper’s services.

Back in February, when Harper addressed reporters for the first time this year, he said that if anyone asked about his status beyond the 2018 season, he’d “be walking out right out the door.” On Tuesday, the former MVP stood in front of his locker and danced around several questions pertaining to the Yankees and his future.

“Every single time we go in to face somebody, we’ve got to do things to keep track of what’s important,” said Harper, “and that’s winning ballgames and doing the things we can as a team to play well. Doesn’t matter who we’re playing — if it’s the Yankees, Cubs, Dodgers, Phillies, name it. Doesn’t really matter the team or the atmosphere. Just trying to go in there, try to win ballgames.”

The Nationals have been winning ballgames despite the fact that their star right fielder has been slumping. Although Harper entered Tuesday leading the majors in walks (41) and tied for the lead in home runs (13), he’s hitting just .186 over the past four weeks, dropping his average to .236 on the season. Washington enters its two-game set with New York having won 13 of its past 15 contests to move within 1.5 games of the first-place Atlanta Braves. The hot streak has come without contributions from several injured regulars, including second baseman Daniel Murphy and left fielder Adam Eaton.

Eaton, who’s been out since injuring his ankle in early April and had arthroscopic surgery last Thursday, revealed on Tuesday that he expects to miss six weeks.

“I’m pumped to get off to rehab and strengthen the crap out of this thing and be back for half the season,” said Washington’s leadoff hitter, who missed most of last season after injuring the same ankle and his knee in late April. “That’s my goal, for sure. Three months of baseball. Give me enough time to get into the grind of things. I’m excited to get back.”

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