Mike Rizzo defended his former MVP on Tuesday. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

NEW YORK — As his Washington Nationals took batting practice before their series opener against the New York Yankees on Tuesday evening, a seething Mike Rizzo came to Bryce Harper’s defense a day after an anonymous National League executive told a website that the outfielder was “overrated” and “a selfish, losing player.”

“I think it’s just totally unfair on so many levels,” Rizzo said, referring to remarks made to Robert Murray of FanRag Sports. “First of all, the premise is entirely wrong. Bryce Harper is a winner. He’s been a winner his whole life. He’s been a rookie of the year, five-time all-star, an MVP. He’s won more games since he’s been called up to the big leagues than any player in the major leagues.

“So how is that a loser? This guy has done nothing but been a tremendous advocate for the Washington Nationals — between the lines, in the dugout, in the clubhouse and in the community. His charitable endeavors and his philanthropic efforts have been second to none. Two fields in Washington, D.C., with his name on it, for the kids. So he’s as far from a loser as you can possibly get. He’s a champion. He’s a winner. Always has been. Always will be.  And these anonymous quotes from these unnamed sources like a National League executive, it’s cowardly, it’s chicken s***, and it’s gutless.”

Harper, 25, arrived at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday with an NL-leading 19 home runs and a .228 batting average knowing the spotlight would beam in his direction. It was a day fans had circled on their calendars, the first time the soon-to-be-free-agent and childhood Yankees fan would play in the Bronx since 2015. Speculation has swirled about his future and over whether the Yankees will enter his free agent sweepstakes this winter. He knew the attention was coming. But the anonymous quotes, reportedly offered from the executive in three text messages, tossed him in the sports news cycle all day Tuesday before the media horde congregated around his locker. And the fiery Rizzo was angry.

“This is yellow journalism. This is sensationalism,” Rizzo said. “This is somebody that nobody knows about writing something outrageous from a source nobody can confirm to get name recognition and clicks on some kind of blog. We’ll never see this person, this National League executive. Obviously, he’s never been with Harper or knows Harper because if he was then he would not have said what he said about him being a loser and about he cares only for himself.

“It’s total bull**** and it’s something that should be exposed for what it is. And it’s either just being a hater or — it’s certainly unprofessional. If I found out someone in my organization said that, they would be fired the next day. And hopefully when I find out who this guy is, I’ll take care of that in my own way, but he should be fired also because, first of all, he can’t evaluate because Harper’s one of the best players in the league and one of the great advocates for the Washington Nationals.”

Rizzo selected Harper No. 1 overall in the 2010 draft, his second draft at the helm, and has developed a close relationship with the slugger over the past eight years. That relationship has included Rizzo vehemently defending Harper publicly, most notably in 2012 when Cole Hamels admitted to throwing at Harper, then a rookie. He used similar words to defend his franchise cornerstone six years later.

“It’s something that has to be talked about and exposed because otherwise if nobody says anything about it, it can’t go on,” Rizzo said about the anonymous report. “For another team’s executive — if it happened, if it was said — if another team’s executive to lambaste a player and denigrate this player’s ability level, his character, and his integrity, and not have the balls to put his name on it is cowardly and chicken s***. And he should be exposed for it.”

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