Bryce Harper opens up about his defensive shortcomings last season

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Bryce Harper opens up about his defensive shortcomings last season

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Bryce Harper knows his defense last season wasn't good enough. The advanced defensive metrics are flawed and sometimes inaccurate, but practically all of them showed that Harper in 2018 was a worse outfielder than he had been in his previous six major-league seasons.

According to Sports Info Solutions, Harper was worth minus-26 defensive runs last season. The previous three seasons, he was worth plus-26 defensive runs saved. Clearly, something was amiss in 2018.

There were several factors. Harper suffered a knee injury toward the end of the 2017 season that could have played a role. The biggest factor, to him, was the number of innings he played in center field for the Nationals. It's just not his ideal spot.

"I know I was terrible last year in center field. I feel like if I can stay out of center field, that'd be great," Harper said after his second spring training game as a Phillie. "Wherever they need me to play, I'll play, whether it's center or left. But for me, leg-wise, keeping my legs and body fresh, right field is hopefully gonna be the spot. 

"Just trying to know every single ballpark I play in, know right field the best I can and make the right throws I need to. There are times when I'll overthrow a guy or throw the ball to home plate instead of third base, so I can definitely get better at that. Just trying to improve each day, get my work in, really understand the report cards that we have and move my centerfielder. I've played with some great centerfielders in the past so they've helped me out a little bit here and there getting balls I wasn't able to get to. Just trying to progress myself out there, work harder each year and get better at that."

Harper played 477 innings in center field last season, by far the most since his rookie year. It wasn't just that playing center skewed his defensive data, he thinks it also caused more fatigue, which is understandable given the six-month grind of baseball.

"I think it was more of playing about 65 (games) in center field. That takes a toll on myself I guess, but it's no excuse," he said. "For me, it's just getting better out there. My knees felt great. Not making those overthrows, really making the right decisions."

On Monday, he got a chance in right field almost immediately and did make the correct decision on a sacrifice fly. The fourth batter of the game for the Rays, Avisail Garcia, flew out to Harper with runners on second and third. Both runners tagged up and Harper made a strong and accurate throw to third, missing Kevin Kiermaier by a step or two.

At the plate, Harper struck out looking on a 96 mph fastball in the first inning against one of the best lefties in the game, Blake Snell. 

"Yeah, he's good," Harper said. "I was just happy to be able to get out there and face a guy like him, see some velo and some offspeed as well. Just see one of the best in baseball, even if it's the second game of the spring or the middle of the season."

After a fourth-inning walk — his third in four plate appearances this spring — Harper's day was done. He is expected to play Wednesday night in Tampa against the Yankees and again on Friday in Clearwater against the Blue Jays.

The Phillies are easing him back into games but will want to increase the number of innings he plays to get him back to the feel of playing a full nine.

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Phillies call up shortstop Sean Rodriguez, who's known for his competitive fire

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Phillies call up shortstop Sean Rodriguez, who's known for his competitive fire

NEW YORK — All signs point to Jean Segura returning to the Phillies on Saturday, but in the meantime, the Phils have another shortstop: Sean Rodriguez.

Rodriguez was called up from Triple A on Wednesday, two days before his 34th birthday. He will immediately get the start at shortstop for the Phillies, batting seventh on Wednesday night against Mets left-hander Jason Vargas.

Rodriguez's call-up was one of several roster moves the Phillies made ahead of their series finale in New York. Right-handed pitcher Enyel De Los Santos was also recalled from Triple A, while Mitch Walding and Drew Anderson were optioned back to Lehigh Valley. 

Additionally, left-handed reliever James Pazos was designated for assignment. Acquired in the Segura trade with Seattle, Pazos wasn't sharp in spring training and had a rough go with the IronPigs, allowing six runs and seven walks in 7⅓ innings.

The Phillies have had to utilize more of their 40-man roster than they would have liked these last two weeks. Scott Kingery was Segura's replacement, but then Kingery suffered a hamstring injury of his own. The next man up was Phil Gosselin, who had two singles in his Phillies debut last Friday and a three-run double Saturday but is 0 for 12 since. Gosselin also committed a throwing error in the first inning of Tuesday night's loss.

Enter Rodriguez, who last season in the majors played every position except pitcher and catcher. He's spent most of his career as a bench utilityman but had a lot of success in 2016 as a platoon player with the Pirates, hitting .270/.349/.510 with 18 homers and 56 RBI in just 342 plate appearances.

Even through his struggles the last two seasons, Rodriguez has more than held his own against left-handed pitching. Since 2016, he has a .384 OBP against lefties, which you'd think factored into the timing of this call-up. The Phillies face the lefty Vargas on Wednesday and another southpaw in Caleb Smith Thursday. 

Rodriguez, who's tight with Andrew McCutchen and thrilled to again share a clubhouse with him, had an opt-out in his contract if he didn't make the team out of spring training but decided to stay in the organization and accept the role at Triple A. 

"I'm in it to win," he said. "That's what I told (Gabe) Kapler and (Matt) Klentak. It was clear this offseason this team was trying to win."

Rodriguez had been hitting for power at Triple A, going 11 for 25 with four homers, a triple, two doubles and 12 RBI in his last six games before Tuesday night. Despite that and the Phillies' growing injured list, he tried his best to not sit by his phone and await the call.

"We can try to play GM but I learned a long time ago not to do that," he said. "You obviously see the injuries and all that but you don't buy into it, you just try to show up every day and do your job on a daily basis."

Rodriguez is perhaps best-known for his fire and competitiveness in the field, on the bases and in the dugout. He's the consummate good teammate, the kind of guy who's usually the first one out when benches begin to clear in a situation like the Phillies experienced Tuesday night when two fastballs were thrown above Rhys Hoskins' head.

He has no intentions of dialing that back as he gets reacclimated to the group of guys he spent spring training with.

"I think if you've identified pretty early on that's who you are as a player and competitor, it's hard not to just continue to be that guy," he said. "If you're not, then you're almost taking yourself and your competitive nature and putting it aside. Basically, you're putting it in the closet. You don't want to do that. 

"If that's who you are, that's who you are. You learn to somewhat not let the rage come out in a bad or negative way. That's what you try to harness and buffer up a bit. But definitely not turning it off."

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Upbeat David Robertson feeling good, eager to be reevaluated

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Upbeat David Robertson feeling good, eager to be reevaluated

NEW YORK — David Robertson, the most important and accomplished reliever in the Phillies' bullpen, is feeling good and might not be too far away from returning from a Grade 1 flexor strain in his throwing arm.

Robertson was upbeat Wednesday afternoon at Citi Field before the series finale between the Phillies and Mets. He admitted he's been antsy to get back during this process. He hasn't spent much time on the shelf throughout his 12-year big-league career, visiting the IL (then the DL) just twice, in 2012 with an oblique strain and 2014 when he "pulled something in [his] butt."

Robertson will be reevaluated by the Phillies' medical staff when they return home for the four-game series against the Marlins. He is hoping and assuming that evaluation will take place Thursday. If it goes well, he can resume throwing.

Robertson, who signed a two-year, $23 million contract with the Phillies this past offseason, has made seven appearances. The first three were ugly — four runs, 10 baserunners in two innings. The next four were strong — 4⅔ scoreless innings, four baserunners, five strikeouts.

Robertson felt the tenderness most when he would release the ball. He does not want to use the soreness as an excuse for those first three outings, one of them a ninth-inning meltdown in D.C. He's felt soreness and nagging pain at times during his long career like most major-leaguers so it's not always easy to determine when it's affecting his performance.

He's hoping that he doesn't need a rehab stint in the minor leagues but realizes it may be necessary given his recent inactivity. The last game in which Robertson appeared was April 14 in Miami when he pitched two scoreless innings in a Phillies win.

He's eager to get back, especially with the team's recent struggles. The Phillies entered Wednesday's game 1-5 on their two-city road trip.

"You watch some of these close games and think, 'Man, it should be me out there," he said. "But I don't want to be stubborn."

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