Phillies

Bryce Harper looks to find roots and rings in Philly

Bryce Harper looks to find roots and rings in Philly

CLEARWATER, Fla. — It was a day Bryce Harper seemed destined for as far back as when he was wowing the travel-ball circuit with his tape-measure homers as a 14-year-old back home in Las Vegas and landing on the cover of Sports Illustrated at the age of 16.

Harper officially became owner of the richest contract in American sports history when the Phillies announced his 13-year, $330 million deal in a sun-splashed news conference at Spectrum Field on Saturday afternoon.

The event capped a week of intense negotiations between the Phillies and Harper. The Phillies had pursued the free-agent slugger for weeks but did not make an official offer until Sunday, after both sides had gathered extensive intel on each other. There was optimism of getting a deal done on Monday. That was followed by uncertainty on Tuesday and pessimism on Wednesday (see story).

Finally, the two sides agreed on Thursday and, "The maestro got his Harp."

That's how agent Scott Boras described Phillies managing partner John Middleton's pursuit of the 26-year-old Harper.

Boras has always had a way with words, not to mention negotiations. Back in November, he launched "Harper's Bazaar" and this week it all landed in Philadelphia. Not San Francisco. Not Los Angeles. Not back in Washington. Harper wanted to get paid, as they say, but he also wanted something else: To stay in one place for a good, long time. His wife, Kayla, seconded that. In addition to a record amount of cash — stupid money, some might say — he gets that opportunity for 13 years in Philadelphia.

"Beyond the money, years were important to me, being able to put down some roots and grow a family," Harper said. "At the end of this, I could have a couple of kids and they could be able to say they're from Philly."

Yo!

Harper plays with a grimace, a scowl and a competitive sneer. There was none of that Saturday. He smiled easily — yeah, we know, you'd smile, too, if … — and was very articulate in saying the type of things that Philadelphia fans will like to hear.

He called J.T. Realmuto, the Phillies' new catcher, his favorite player in baseball.

He pushed the bounds of tampering by openly wishing that a certain player from Millville, New Jersey, might become a Phillie in two years.

He said he did not want one of those famous opt-out clauses that his man, Boras, invented years ago because he's committed to being a Phillie and winning in Philadelphia.

"For me, it's all about winning," he said. "That's what you're remembered for."

He said he was eager to hang with the Phanatic. He said Gritty was "ugly." (Don't worry, orange fella, that was a compliment. We think.)

With his parents seated a few feet away, he talked about his upbringing.

"I come from a blue-collar family," Harper said. "My dad woke up at 3 in the morning to tie rebar every single day in 130-degree heat in Vegas. That's where I get my work ethic. That's what I want to do every single day. I want to work hard. I want to work out. I want to do the things I can to prolong my career and to play for a very long time and be successful for a very long time."

He has already consulted Tom Brady — several times — about the keys to playing (and producing) into his 40s.

As of nightfall Saturday, the Phillies had sold more than 220,000 tickets since reaching the agreement with Harper on Thursday.

But Middleton does not look at Harper as a marketing tool. (And neither does GM Matt Klentak, who has had a great winter in adding two former MVPs in Harper and Andrew McCutchen, a hits machine shortstop in Jean Segura and the best catcher in baseball in Realmuto.) The rebuild is over. It's time to get Middleton's bleeping trophy back.

Middleton told Boras as much in a meeting last month.

"I said, 'Scott, I want to tell you something: I'm not interested in talking about marketing dollars, tickets sold, billboards, concessions,'" Middleton said in a conversation with reporters moments after the news conference. "I said, 'There's only one reason I'm talking to you, and that's because I believe this guy can help us win, and that's all I care about.' I said, 'I've made enough money in my life. I don't need to make more.' I said, 'My franchise value has risen dramatically over the last 25 years. I don't need it to rise more. If it does, fine. I'm here to win. And I think your guy can help me win, and that's all I want to talk about.'

"In Philadelphia, you put a winning product on the field, they are behind you 1,000 percent. That's all I care about. And frankly, all I really care about is getting that trophy — I can't say the real word — but that trophy."

Harper said his goal was to do just that.

He will strive to reach that goal wearing No. 3. He made his name in No. 34, but that's headed for the rafters in honor of Hall of Famer Roy Halladay.

"Roy Halladay should be the last Phillie to wear No. 34," Harper said in the very ballpark where the pitcher was remembered in a moving memorial service 15 months ago.

Harper chose No. 3 because it was the number his dad and brother wore in high school.

The fans in right field at Citizens Bank Park should get ready to see a lot of that number over the next 13 seasons.

It all starts March 28, opening day.

"I'm excited for that 1:05 against the Braves," Bryce Harper said with a smile.

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Jake Arrieta 'taking the lead' of Phillies' rotation, imparting some wisdom to Nick Pivetta

Jake Arrieta 'taking the lead' of Phillies' rotation, imparting some wisdom to Nick Pivetta

This is the guy the Phillies paid $75 million for.

Jake Arrieta has been awesome in his first four starts, resembling more of the pitcher from 2014-16 than the last two seasons. Again on Wednesday afternoon, he kept the ball low, generating groundball after groundball, tapper after tapper in the Phillies' 3-2 win.

He allowed six hits over eight innings and four were infield hits. He ended three innings — the third, seventh and eighth — with double-play balls. 

He faced 29 batters and only six sent the ball past the infield.

Through four starts, Arrieta is 3-1 with a 2.25 ERA. He has four straight quality starts, a longer streak than he had at any point in 2018. And the Phillies have needed every bit of it. In their other 13 games, their starting pitchers have just three quality starts.

It's definitely the most locked-in he's been as a Phillie.

"When I'm right, you're going to see a lot of balls on the ground. The timing of my delivery right now is really good," Arrieta said. "I just look forward to continuing to keep that where it is and still want to make some progress with a couple of my off-speed pitches, but the changeup's been great. It's a pitch for me where I know I can get swings and misses and weak contact so I'm going to keep throwing that quite a bit and get the cutter sharpened up."

It's early, but this changeup could take Arrieta to a higher level. Lefties hit .281 against him last season compared to .156 entering Wednesday. The pitch has enough movement, laterally and vertically, right now for him to use it against hitters from both sides.

In his last start, he threw 20 changeups and 17 were strikes. Wednesday afternoon, he threw 21 changeups and while two went for hits, one was a double-play ball and two more were swinging strikeouts.

"It was one of the top two or three performances I've seen from Arrieta since he's been a Phillie," manager Gabe Kapler said. "It was really impressive. It certainly seems like he's taken the reins and taking the lead for our pitching staff right now."

Despite inconsistent starting pitching, the Phillies are 11-6, a pace of 104 wins. They've gone 4-1-1 in six series. They'll need other starting pitchers to step up throughout the season, and they'll definitely need Aaron Nola to find his release point and command, but right now Arrieta is softening the struggles of a few of his rotation-mates.

Arrieta is also well-qualified to discuss what Nick Pivetta is going through. Pivetta was sent down to Triple A on Wednesday morning after a miserable first four starts. When GM Matt Klentak spoke about the move, he referenced Victor Arano and Hector Neris as recent examples of pitchers going down to the minors, finding their command and confidence and returning to have success. Klentak also mentioned Roy Halladay, who had the early-career issues before becoming the best pitcher in baseball. Halladay's name wasn't used to argue that Pivetta could someday be the best of the best, but instead to remind folks that even the most talented arms go through rough periods.

Another example Klentak could have cited was Arrieta himself. Arrieta was a touted prospect coming through the Orioles' farm system a decade ago, and after a few unsuccessful years in Baltimore, he became an ace in Chicago.

The Phillies' young starting pitchers take a lot of their cues from the 33-year-old Arrieta, who spoke with Pivetta after the somewhat surprising roster move.

"I talked with him, yeah. The situation he's in right now is one that I'm very familiar with," Arrieta said. "In 2012 and 2013, I went through very similar experiences. This is a moment for him to kind of get away, put his head down and get back to work. I just tried to reiterate to him that the guy he was in spring training is the guy who he really is. 

"He just needs to be a little bit more on the attack with the type of stuff that he has. You pick five to 10 guys with the best stuff in baseball and he's in that group. He just needs to refine some things, make sure his head's in a good space and get back to work because he's gonna be here. He's gonna be a big part of our team this season. This is just a moment for him to kind of get away for a little while, get his stuff right and get back here pretty soon."

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Phillies 3, Mets 2: Scott Kingery, Cesar Hernandez provide Phils just enough offense for series win

Phillies 3, Mets 2: Scott Kingery, Cesar Hernandez provide Phils just enough offense for series win

Another strong performance from Jake Arrieta and a pair of solo home runs were the difference for the Phillies Wednesday afternoon as they completed a series win over the Mets with a 3-2 victory.

Arrieta allowed one run over eight innings, improving to 3-1 with a 2.25 ERA through four starts. He's made four straight quality starts to begin his season. He did not have a streak of four straight quality starts at any point in 2018.

Arrieta came out to pitch the ninth but was pulled after allowing a leadoff single, which eventually came around to score. Adam Morgan and Hector Neris walked a tightrope but picked up the final three outs. Neris struck Keon Broxton out on a full count with the bases loaded to close it out.

The Phillies are 11-6 and have gone 4-1-1 in their six series. The Mets are 10-8.

Keys to victory

• Scott Kingery stayed hot with a solo home run. Since starting the season 0 for 4, Kingery is 12 for 20 with four doubles and two homers. At no point in his rookie year was he this hot.

• Cesar Hernandez had a productive day at the plate against Mets right-hander Zack Wheeler. Hernandez worked an 11-pitch walk in the second inning to load the bases, and Maikel Franco followed with a sacrifice fly for the Phillies' first run. In the sixth, Hernandez took Wheeler deep for his second longball of the year.

• Arrieta induced inning-ending double plays in the third, seventh and eighth innings. He allowed only six fly balls to the 28 batters he faced.

• J.T. Realmuto is hot at the plate. He went 2 for 4 with a pair of singles and is up to .279/.348/.426 on the season. His work on the basepaths was what stood out the most. He went first to third on a single to left field, scored on a sac fly to center with the centerfielder catching the ball while running toward the plate, and later beat out an infield single. Ninety percent of catchers would be out on all three plays.

Another hammy pull

Odubel Herrera left the game in the fifth inning with an apparent hamstring injury, making it two hammy pulls in two days for the Phillies after Jean Segura left last night. A call-up of Roman Quinn is the logical move if Herrera has to miss time.

Rotation shakeup

Nick Pivetta was optioned to Triple A on Wednesday morning. Jerad Eickhoff takes his spot for the time being and will start Sunday at Coors Field.

Up next

The Phillies head to Colorado. The pitching matchups are:

Thursday — Zach Eflin (2-1, 3.94) vs. LHP Kyle Freeland (1-3, 5.40)

Friday — Vince Velasquez (0-0, 2.25) vs. German Marquez (2-1, 2.00)

Saturday — Aaron Nola (1-0, 7.45) vs. Antonio Senzatela (1-0, 1.35)

Sunday — Jerad Eickhoff (0-0, 0.00) vs. Jon Gray (1-3, 3.42)

Marquez is one tough customer. He pitched a one-hit shutout Sunday against the Giants.

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