Bryce Harper drops the mic in his return to D.C., gives Phillies fans chills

Bryce Harper drops the mic in his return to D.C., gives Phillies fans chills

WASHINGTON — The game was already in hand when Bryce Harper dropped the mic.

Facing former two-time Phillies opening day starter Jeremy Hellickson in the eighth inning Tuesday night, Harper tattooed another baseball, this time going 458 feet out to the second deck in right-center field.

It was Harper's third straight game with a home run and he now owns the two farthest-hit balls in the National League in this young season: 465 feet on Saturday, 458 feet Tuesday night in D.C. in the Phillies' 8-2 win (see observations).

The timing was as storybook as the last six weeks have been for the Phillies. Yes, it's four games into the season. But the potential of this team and the energy Harper has infused is hard to overlook. Scoring eight runs per game isn't sustainable, but the Phillies are too talented an offensive bunch to crash hard back to Earth and stay there.

This was Harper's first game back in D.C. if you hadn't heard. He's no stranger to attention but it was ratcheted up even more than usual on this day. At 3 p.m., Harper spoke to a media room that went about 50-deep. It was a who's who later in the press box: Bob Costas, John Smoltz, Tom Verducci, Buster Olney, Chris Russo, David Aldridge. Everyone wants to catch a piece of Bryce.

Harper's night started quietly, aside from the intense boos he received in the on-deck circle, in the batter's box and any time a ball was hit his way. Early on, the boos outweighed the contingent of 500 Phillies fans in right field and the many more spread throughout the stadium.

"Heard the boos. I just try to remember that I've got 45,000 people in the city of Philadelphia and more that were screaming and watching their TV cheering," he said. "I respect them so much. I understand the game and understand the fan and player interactions. Being able to have them back at home knowing they're cheering and screaming at me through the TV and also having the huge section in right field really fired me up."

Harper struck out swinging in each of his first two plate appearances against three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, causing the only two cheers of the game from Nats fans.

In his third plate appearance, Harper evened the score against Scherzer, doubling down the right-field line.

"He threw me a 2-2 changeup, nasty," Harper recalled. "Then he threw me a 3-2 cutter, also nasty. I knew going up there in that third at-bat that I've got to get a knock because this guy is gonna text me and wear me out."

A few innings later ... well, Harper unloaded.

Even before the home run, Nationals Park had thinned out and Phillies fans had taken over (see story). There were chants of "MVP" and "WE GOT HARPER," clap-clap, clap clap clap.

Standing on second base after the double, Harper looked out at Phillies fans in right-center and pumped his fist at them. When he went out to the field the next half-inning, he did this:

"I was just trying to make sure it was all Philly fans in that section," Harper said.

Through four games, Harper is 6 for 14 (.429) with two doubles, three homers, five RBI and four walks. The Phillies, as a team, have a .391 on-base percentage.

He'll get booed Wednesday, he'll get booed when the Phillies come back here in June, he'll get booed the final week of the season when these teams may be competing for the NL East title, and he'll get booed in D.C. for the majority of this 13-year contract. 

This first game back was new for him, but playing the role of the villain is not.

"I have the city of Philadelphia behind me each and every night," Harper said. "And if I have that, nothing else matters to me."

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J.T. Realmuto feeling 'blessed' as he heads into arbitration showdown with Phillies

J.T. Realmuto feeling 'blessed' as he heads into arbitration showdown with Phillies

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto will participate in Tuesday’s workout before taking a flight to Phoenix for Wednesday’s salary arbitration hearing.

Realmuto is dreading the long flight, not the hearing.

“One way or another, I’m going to be playing baseball in Philly this year,” he said. “I’m going to either be making $10 million or $12 million, and I’ll be happy either way. I’m blessed to get to do what I do for a living for a lot of money so either way, I’m happy.”

Realmuto is actually seeking $12.4 million. The Phillies have filed at $10 million. The arbitration panel will select one figure or the other. There is no middle ground (more details here).

Realmuto, who made $5.9 million last year, is in his third and final year of arbitration and is scheduled to become a free agent after this season. To date, the highest-paid catcher in that class was Matt Wieters, who avoided a hearing with Baltimore and made $8.275 million 2015. Catcher Mike Napoli actually made more — $9.4 million — in a negotiated settlement with the Texas Rangers in 2012, but he was in his fourth year of arbitration because of his Super-Two status with the Anaheim Angels in 2009.

So, no matter how the arbitration panel rules, Realmuto’s 2020 salary will be a record for an arbitration-eligible catcher.

Once Realmuto’s 2020 salary is established, the Phillies will turn their attention to negotiating a long-term contract extension with him. Realmuto is expected to seek in the neighborhood of $23 million per season, matching Joe Mauer’s record salary for a catcher, over a five- or six-year deal. 

The Phillies would like to get a deal done by opening day to avoid any potential distractions. Would Realmuto negotiate during the season?

“We haven’t gotten there yet,” Realmuto said. “I’ll talk with my agent and we’ll communicate with Matt (Klentak, the general manager) and let him know.”

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Joe Girardi asks Phillies players to give him their hearts — and their trots

Joe Girardi asks Phillies players to give him their hearts — and their trots

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Joe Girardi officially opened his first Phillies spring training camp by telling the players to give him their hearts.

“He knows if he can get our heart, he’ll get our best on the field,” J.T. Realmuto said.

Both Girardi and managing partner John Middleton stressed that the goal was to play deep into October. The Phillies have not been to the postseason since 2011.

Middleton reminded the players of the passion that Philadelphia fans have and urged them to give back to the fans by playing the game hard and respecting it.

Girardi roamed the fields of Carpenter Complex during the workout. He lightened the mood at the end of a base-running drill by asking a group of players, including Jean Segura, to show off their home run trots.

“Just to have some fun,” Girardi said after the workout.

The home-run trot "drill" came with some instructions.

“Make sure you run hard before you know it's out,” he told the players. “The big thing is if you run hard to first, there is a great chance it'll be out by then. Then you don't get caught on first base or caught on second base when you should be a base ahead. Just run hard.”

Phillies pitchers will begin throwing live batting practice during Tuesday’s workout.

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