WASHINGTON -- Two games into his postseason career, Bryce Harper is already facing questions about changing his approach. For the 19-year-old center fielder, though, a return home to Nationals Park could be the most natural cure-all.
As the Nationals split the first pair of National League Divisional Series games with the Cardinals in St. Louis, Harper went just 2-for-10 with six strikeouts. Even his lone highlight, a double in the seventh inning of Game 2 on Monday, was quickly erased in the next at-bat.
With Harper at second and Jayson Werth on third, Ryan Zimmerman lofted a sac fly to left field to score Werth. But after Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday had already begun throwing the ball into the cutoff man, second baseman Daniel Descalso, Harper tried advancing to third. Descalso fired to shortstop Pete Kozma, who was covering the bag, easily nabbing Harper and giving the Nationals their second out of the inning.
"Our inexperience has shown up in a couple areas," manager Davey Johnson said when the Nats returned to Washington for a workout day on Tuesday. "Harper made a kind of -- well, he's made those kind of plays all year long trying to stretch a double into a triple or whatever."
Indeed, a fair amount of Harper's nine triples -- the fifth-most in a single season by a teenager -- were results of hard running out of the box and a willingness to stretch a double into a close play at third.
Given the bigger postseason stage, Harper's baserunning error on Tuesday only served to magnify his struggles at the plate. But in reality, Harper faced 49 pitches between the two games, seeing at least seven pitches in an at-bat four separate times. Both he and Johnson downplayed any issues with his approach at the plate, instead pointing out the benefits of returning home and the difficulties in facing St. Louis' pitching staff.
"I'm just trying to play my game," Harper said. "That's the biggest thing you can do. You can't really change or try to do anything different."
Johnson went even further, downplaying any concerns with a crack about Harper's hair, which was dyed jet black for the first two games in St. Louis.
"He's going to be fine. I noticed today he's back to his natural hair color," Johnson said. "That pleases me. He has just a great approach at home plate, and had good BP today.
"I think we are going to get better at-bats all the way through the lineup."
Washington sun could be a factor in Game 3
WASHINGTON -- The weather for Game 3 of the National League Division Series between the Nationals and Cardinals is expected to be sunny with temperatures around 70 degrees.
That may not be a good thing for either team. The last time the Nationals played on a sunny afternoon at Nationals Park was on Sept. 23 and 24 against the Brewers. On Sept. 23, Nationals center fielder Bryce Harper lost a ball in the sun.
Three innings later, the game was tied at two when Milwaukee took the lead against Nats reliever Ryan Mattheus in the seventh inning. One of the runs scored when Brewers center fielder Carlos Gomez hit a routine fly ball to right fielder Jayson Werth, but Werth lost the ball in the sun and it dropped in front of him for a hit, scoring Aramis Ramirez. The Nationals ended up losing the game, 6-2.
The sun played a role the next day in the Nationals' 12-4 victory, but this time it ended up hurting Brewers right-hander Marco Estrada. With runners on second and third and two outs in a 2-1 game in favor of Washington, Werth hit what looked like a routine fly ball to center field. But it wasn't routine for Gomez, who lost the ball in the sun and let it drop in front of him for a two-run double.
Nats manager Davey Johnson said he is not concerned about the sun, but said it could be a factor by 4 p.m. ET.
"The time before was around four o'clock; that was a bad time with sun," Johnson said. "The other team had problems with it, too. I'm glad it's not a four o'clock start. I think we're at one o'clock."
Harper doesn't seem be concerned about the sun either.
"It's going to be hard for both teams, but we try to work through it as best as we can. Hopefully, good things will happen," Harper said.
Morse commits to stay with ACES
WASHINGTON -- Nationals outfielder Michael Morse said Tuesday he does not plan to leave ACES, the agency that has been allegedly linked to steroids and performance enhancing drugs.
Morse said he feels a loyalty to agents Seth and Sam Levinson. He mentioned that the Levinsons stuck by him when he was struggling to reach the big leagues a few years ago. Morse said he plans to return the favor as long as nothing is proven.
"I know them as people," Morse said. "They have been great for me and great to my family. I look at them as family. For me to be upset with them, something would have to come out that they did something wrong.
"They have been with me through thick and thin. Sometimes we go through some hard times, sometimes things are good, things are down. But like I said, if they did something wrong, then I have to think about something. Besides that, it's all speculation."
Nats confident in ability to win home games
WASHINGTON -- If you remove the national spotlight, the looming threat of a season-ending elimination game and the bunting all around their home field, all the Nationals have to do this week against the Cardinals is something they've done with great success all season: win a three-game home series.
After splitting the first two games of the National League Division Series in St. Louis, Washington needs to win two more games to advance to the NL Championship Series. The Nationals finished the regular season 50-31 at home -- tied with five other teams for the second best mark in the Majors -- and won 10 of their 15 three-game series at Nationals Park.
Or, as first baseman Adam LaRoche put it, "We'll start a race to two here. Nice to be able to do it at home.
"We know what it's going to take. I think we're going to try to keep it to one game at a time and try not to look too far ahead. We've got a big one [Wednesday]. If you don't get it done, you're in a bad spot. So we know how important that is. It'd be nice to get that one and move on."
Washington was swept at home only once this season (June 15-17 against the Yankees), and won three out of four against St. Louis earlier this year at Nationals Park. Manager Davey Johnson described his club as having played "exceptionally" well on its home field, and the rest of the Nationals feel equally confident in their ability to win a home series the same way they did from April through October.
"Anytime we're at home, I think we play good ball. This is where we want to play," left fielder Michael Morse said. "We did what we wanted to do. We wanted to leave St. Louis with one game."
Game times after Wednesday still in flux
WASHINGTON -- On Tuesday, Major League Baseball announced the game times for the rest of both leagues' Division Series this week. If the Nationals are going to play in prime time, their series with the Cardinals will have to go a full five games.
Washington is currently scheduled to start Game 4 on Thursday at 4:07 p.m. ET, although that could get pushed back an hour if the Tigers finish off the A's on Tuesday or Wednesday, which would appear the likely outcome given Detroit's 2-0 series lead.
Game 5, if necessary, will take place Friday at Nationals Park with an 8:37 p.m. ET first pitch.
Both games will be broadcast on TBS. Wednesday's Game 3 -- another afternoon start at 1:07 p.m. -- will air on MLB Network.
Potential NLCS tickets to go on sale Wednesday
WASHINGTON -- The Nationals are still two wins away from clinching the National League Division Series against the Cardinals, but they announced Tuesday that tickets for potential NL Championship Series games at Nationals Park will go on sale Wednesday at 9 a.m. ET.
A maximum of two tickets per NLCS game can be bought online at "nationals.com/postseason" or by phone on a first-come, first-served basis. A limited number of standing-room only tickets will also go on sale the day of each NLCS game at the Nationals Park box office for $45 each, with a limit of two tickets per transaction.
Fans who place a deposit on 2013 full season-ticket plans will receive priority purchase options for tickets this postseason before they go on sale to the general public. All postseason tickets are non-refundable and non-exchangeable.
Mike Fiammetta is an associate reporter for MLB.com. Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.