Phillies

Bryce Harper receives MVP chants, but Phillies' MVP might be Maikel Franco in 4-0 start

Bryce Harper receives MVP chants, but Phillies' MVP might be Maikel Franco in 4-0 start

WASHINGTON — Bryce Harper’s return to the city in which he played for seven seasons on Tuesday night was everything the Phillies wanted it to be and everything the Washington Nationals didn’t want it to be.

Harper survived a pair of strikeouts — and a lot of boos — in his first two at-bats and finished the night with a single, a double and a home run — his third in three games (see story). His three-RBI night led an 8-2 Phillies’ win and pushed the team’s record to 4-0 (see observations). The last time the Phils were 4-0 was 1915. They lost in the World Series to the Boston Red Sox that season.

Of course, it’s way too early to be thinking about postseason play — heck, the New York Mets started last season 11-1 only to finish eight games under .500 — but this is fun. This team is fun. In four games, the Phillies have bashed the baseball, hitting 10 home runs, and the fans are loving it, home and away.

Harper was booed for most of the game, but the boos turned to cheers when he launched a mammoth second-deck homer to right in the eighth inning. The homer flew over several sections of Phillies fans who drowned out the Washington fans with chants of “MVP! … MVP!” and “We got Harper! … We got Harper!”

Harper wasn’t the only standout on this night. Zach Eflin looked very much like a guy ready to break out as he struck out a career-high nine batters in five innings and delivered a clutch at-bat in the fourth. Rhys Hoskins made a nice defensive play early in the game at first base, Jean Segura had a three-run double, Odubel Herrera had three doubles and Maikel Franco reached base five times thanks to three intentional walks and a couple of big hits.

Harper got the MVP chants, but Franco might be the MVP of the first four games. He stroked a two-out homer against Max Scherzer in the second inning. It was his third homer in four games. Yes, it’s super early, but Franco’s on-base percentage is a gaudy .706.

Once upon a time, Franco hit in the middle of the batting order. In this new and improved Phillies’ lineup, he’s been hitting eighth. A drop like that would be a blow to some players’ pride. Not Franco. He has survived benchings and trade rumors. His upbeat attitude never wanes and that’s a big factor in his resilience.

“I don’t care where I hit,” Franco said. “I just want to be in the lineup and help my team. I’m taking nothing for granted, just do my best.”

Manager Gabe Kapler likes Franco in the eight-hole.

“There’s some strategy to this,” Kapler said. “I think Maikel is seeing a lot pitches. It’s caused him to be patient. He’s smiling a lot. He’s especially confident. He’s getting a couple of pitches to hit per game and he’s doing damage on them. I don’t think we have to make any changes with the lineup right now. I think our lineup works well with him at the bottom and clearly it doesn’t limit his ability to produce power.”

Kapler opened spring training by challenging Franco to hold off Scott Kingery for playing time.

“There are people who tend to cower in those situations and there are people who tend to step up and try to meet a pretty high bar,” Kapler said. “It seems to me that he’s taken that challenge on and used it as motivation.

“He’s always bringing energy to the dugout. He’s one of everybody’s favorite teammates.”

Franco has forged a little bond with Harper. They have one of those secret handshakes to celebrate home runs.

“He’s amazing,” Franco said of Harper. “He’s a really good dude.

“We’re having fun.”

Winning will do that.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Phillies

Bryce Harper's headband collection continues to grow with latest design for his son

Bryce Harper's headband collection continues to grow with latest design for his son

Since his time in Philadelphia began just shy of one year ago, Bryce Harper has embraced the city with open arms from the moment he arrived.

One thing that Harper is known for, outside of crushing dingers and having a monster arm in right field, is his vast headband collection that was seen throughout the season.

It’s something that he carried over from his time in Washington, but let’s be honest — the ones that he has worn here have been way cooler.

Who can forget the iconic Phanatic one, that had just about every fan running to the closest team store or taking to their phones to place an order for their own.


(Image credit: USA Today Images)

Harper truly took a liking to the Phanatic (who wouldn’t?) and even embraced the mascot via socks and cleats. Notice the details in the laces? They’re fuzzy. Seriously, who designed those? Give that person a raise.



(Credit for Images: USA Today Images)

And let’s just hope the whole Phanatic ordeal gets settled before the start of the season, so Harper can continue repping his biggest supporter.

Let’s get back to the main reason for this post — headbands.

There were many other ways he sported his new team last season, including a headband in army green, one to match the Phillies’ home uniforms and even one with stars.



(Credit for images: USA Today Images)

His latest one though, looks to be a custom design from JunkBrands.com. It’s personalized with Harper’s number but more importantly, his son’s name, Krew.


(Image credit: John Clark/Twitter)

We’re not sure how Harper is going to top last year’s lineup … but he’s off to a pretty great start.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Phillies

Realmuto feeling ‘blessed’ as he heads into arbitration showdown with Phillies

2020 Phillies spring training pitching probables: Battle for 5th starter begins this weekend

2020 Phillies spring training pitching probables: Battle for 5th starter begins this weekend

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The battle for the Phillies' fifth starter's job will get off to a quick start.

Manager Joe Girardi on Tuesday announced his starting pitchers for the first three Grapefruit League games.

Nick Pivetta will start the exhibition opener against the Detroit Tigers on Saturday in Lakeland.

Presumed opening day starter Aaron Nola will get the ball Sunday against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Clearwater.

Vince Velasquez will get the nod Monday against the Baltimore Orioles in Clearwater.

Girardi was not ready to announce any other pitching plans.

On paper, the top four spots in the Phillies' rotation appear set with Nola, Zack Wheeler, Jake Arrieta and Zach Eflin. Pivetta and Velasquez will vie for the fifth spot with pitchers like Ranger Suarez, Cole Irvin and prospect Damon Jones also getting a look.

"I think it's important that all these guys that are competing for the last spots get a ton of looks and we can afford to do that," Girardi said. "We have a number of games, we have split-squad games. We'll look at people. I think it's important that we do that, that we're fair to everyone because it's fair to the team that way.

"As we go forward, each start gets a little bit more important, but I think it's not fair to evaluate start 1 and start 2. That's the buildup stage."

Girardi, his staff and the front office will use a couple of factors in picking a fifth starter. Obviously, there is performance in spring training. In addition, Girardi said, the team will consider who might profile best in the bullpen. Suarez opened eyes in the bullpen last year. Velasquez and Pivetta both spent time in the rotation and the bullpen last year. One of them appears to be ticketed for the rotation and the other for the bullpen.

"The bottom line is we're going to want our 13 best pitchers to go with us and we have to kind of put that puzzle together," Girardi said.

New pitching coach Bryan Price has mentioned that a starter transitioning to the bullpen can benefit from some adjustment time because relieving is "a learned craft." In a perfect world, the Phils will identify who starts and who goes to the bullpen before the Grapefruit League schedule ends so the adjustment period can commence.

"We would like to do that," Girardi said. "That doesn't mean it will happen. If they make our job really difficult, it might get drawn out longer. And you can make it difficult two different ways — they're all pitching good or they're all scuffling."

Girardi hopes they're all pitching good.

In Price's view, a starter transitioning to the bullpen should not view the move as a slight.

"There's an emotional hurdle of not starting that has to be cleared," he said. "Some guys look at it as a demotion when it can really be something that stimulates a career and greatly impact the ballclub."

No team gets through a season with five starters. So today's reliever might be tomorrow's starter. 

"Just because we pick a fifth starter at the end of March doesn't mean things couldn't change," Girardi said.

Subscribe and rate Phillies Talk:
Apple Podcasts / Google Play / Spotify / Stitcher / Art19

More on the Phillies