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Reds' Todd Frazier wins All-Star Derby in home park

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Reds' Todd Frazier wins All-Star Derby in home park

CINCINNATI (AP) -- "The Toddfather" has a new title. Todd Frazier -- Little League World Series star, Frank Sinatra aficionado -- is baseball's new King of Swing.

The Jersey boy who never seems to get rattled waited until his very last swing -- three times, no less -- to win the All-Star Home Run Derby in his home ballpark on Monday night.

Pressure? Sure didn't show it.

The Reds third baseman became only the second player to win the long-ball competition on his home field Monday night, topping Dodgers rookie Joc Pederson 15-14 with another late surge and one last perfectly timed swing.

"No pressure here with these fans," he said, after accepting the crossed-bats trophy to one more standing ovation at Great American Ball Park.

Frazier joined the Cubs' Ryne Sandberg for home-field homer titles -- the Hall of Fame second baseman did it at Wrigley Field in 1990. After finishing second last year in Minneapolis, this one was as sweet as that winning swing.

"That pushed me a lot," Frazier said. "I wanted to get back here. I'd been working in the offseason a little bit. I'm just glad it was in Cincinnati and they could enjoy it with me."

Pederson was trying to become the first rookie since Wally Joyner in 1986 to win or share the title. He reached the final round by knocking off Albert Pujols, who provided a blast after making the All-Star team for the first time in five years.

"I'm happy for Todd, especially being able to do it in front of his fans," Pujols said. "It's his night. He deserves it. I just hope the fans were pleased and happy with the performance every single guy did. The right guy won, too."

Frazier topped Prince Fielder and Josh Donaldson to reach the finals, where he faced his biggest test. Pederson went first and matched the highest total of the night with 14 homers. Frazier needed a late surge to pull even, tying him with 11 seconds left in his round.

He'd hit enough long homers to earn an extra 30 seconds, giving him a chance to take a few deep breaths, regroup and refocus.

On the first pitch from brother Charlie in extra time, Frazier puffed his cheeks and exhaled as he hit one solidly, then mouthed the words "That's gone" as the ball headed for the left field stands. The ballpark was full of fans with arms raised even before the ball landed.

How's that?

"It was a great environment," Pederson said. "It was extremely humbling being out there with Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols and Josh Donaldson."

And, of course, it ended with a little more Sinatra.

Frazier uses "Fly Me To The Moon" as his music when he walks to the batter's box during games, and it greeted each of his rounds on Monday. When he'd clinched the title, the ballpark rocked with "I Did It My Way."

"I had no clue they were going to do that," Frazier said. "That was pretty nice."

With that, Frazier made it an All-Cincinnati All-Star event so far. Cubs catcher Kyle Schwarber, a Reds fan who grew up in nearby Middletown, Ohio, was the MVP of the Futures Game on Sunday with a two-run triple.

Frazier had been gearing up for the derby all season. He faded badly last year in Minneapolis, reaching the finals before losing to Yoenis Cespedes 9-1. He was so worn out that he could barely hit one at the end, and he planned to pace himself better this time.

He hung in there and added to his lore for big home runs.

Frazier was a member of the 1998 Toms River team in New Jersey that beat Japan for the Little League World Series championship. He had a homer among his four hits in the clinching game.

He loves hitting at Great American Ball Park, which has been one of the majors' most homer-friendly places since it opened in 2003. He ranks among the major league leaders with 25 home runs this season.

There was speculation that one of the All-Stars might knock one into the Ohio River beyond right field -- Adam Dunn is the only one to reach it so far.

No splashdowns. Plenty of drama, though.

Frazier had a tough challenge right away. Fielder was trying to join Ken Griffey Jr. as the only three-time derby champions. Junior watched from foul territory after throwing a ceremonial opening pitch to his father, Ken Sr.

And Fielder wowed `em, hitting 13 homers -- eight of them farther than 425 feet, with one estimated at 474 feet. The home crowd groaned collectively as Frazier came to bat and got off to a very slow start. He called timeout to catch his breath after struggling to hit his first five homers.

He caught up with 5 seconds to go in his allotted time, then connected again on his first swing of extra time to move on.

And there was no stopping him.

MORE ALL-STAR BREAK: Highlights from Harper and Scherzer on All-Star media day

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Tom Verducci gives more specifics on Bryce Harper's 2016 injury

Tom Verducci gives more specifics on Bryce Harper's 2016 injury

Entering 2016, Bryce Harper was ready to take over the world. After putting forth one of the most impressive offensive seasons in recent memory in 2015, he was rewarded by being named the youngest unanimous MVP in the history of baseball. The following season, he was prepared to take another step forward.

Instead, he slashed .243/.373/.441 with 24 home runs, and questions abounded about why he was struggling.

Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci, one of baseball’s most accomplished reporters, wrote a story late in the season about how Harper had suffered a shoulder injury, according to a source. The Nationals vehemently denied these reports at the time, claiming that their doctors were not aware of any medical issues with Harper’s shoulder. Mike Rizzo said he asked Harper directly if he was hurt and was told no.

At this year’s Winter Meetings, Verducci spoke with NBC Sports Washington, and he doubled down on his reporting.

“2016, of course, that’s when he injured his shoulder. It was a slide in Milwaukee, about one-third of the way into the season, was never quite the same.”

Whereas in 2016 Verducci simply referred to “a source,” it appears this information came from Harper directly.

“As he told me,” Verducci says, “He could not lift weights upper-body wise through the rest of that season, he lost weight, didn’t have the same kind of power. He was compromised even throwing on defense, he had to compromise by playing much more shallow.”

“The numbers in ‘16 really are a function of the injury.”

One concern Nats fans have about signing Harper to a major deal is how his numbers in the post-MVP years have failed to match 2015. According to Baseball-Reference, his combined Wins Above Replacement total from 2016-18 is 7.5. His bWAR in 2015 alone was 10.0. Still, Harper never had an OPS+ below 114 in that stretch. Even his “down” seasons would still be considered quality years for most big league hitters.

Harper is also just now entering his prime, however, so presumably many of his best seasons are still to come. For one MLB insider, at least, there’s no real cause for concern about a long term deal as long as Harper can stay healthy.

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The case for the Phillies as the frontrunner for Bryce Harper, according to Tim Kurkjian

The case for the Phillies as the frontrunner for Bryce Harper, according to Tim Kurkjian

Well, this is not what Nationals fans want to hear. 

There is no bigger buzz at MLB's Winter Meetings in Las Vegas than where free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will sign. Tim Kurkjian, one of the most respected baseball analysts, believes that Harper will stay in the NL East, but sign with the Philadelphia Phillies, not with the Nationals. 

"I think the most logical landing spot for Bryce Harper is the Phillies," Kurkjian said. "The Phillies have a lot of money and they are willing to spend it. They've made that abundently clear."

The Nationals offered Harper a 10-year, $300 million extension on the last day of the 2018 regular season. As expected, he declined.

Aside from that ability to offer the 26-year-old a very large contract, Kurkjian thinks that Philadelphia makes perfect sense in Harper for purely baseball reasons. Phillies manager Gabe Kapler is also fascinated by what Harper would bring to the table.

"They also have a tremendous need [in the outfield]. They played really well for three or four months last year, but the last two months were not good," Kurkjian said. "That club needs a middle of the order hitter, and they need a star hitter to build around, and Bryce Harper fits that category."

The Phillies have also been rumored to have interest in Machado, but after a recent trade, they may shift their focus more towards Harper.

"[The Phillies] already traded for Jean Segura, a pretty good hitting shortstop," Kurkjian said. "Which means they should, at least to me, be less engaged on Manny Machado and more engaged on Bryce Harper."

Segura hit .304 for the Seattle Mariners in 2018 and was selected to the AL All-Star team.

Of course, Kurkjian is only speculating at this point, as no one will know where Harper ends up until he inks pen to the paper. Each day, there is a new story.

"This story doesn't change by the day, it changes by the hour," Kurkjian said. "But at this hour, I will say, the Phillies look to me to be the best fit for Bryce Harper."

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