It took a month, but Phillies fans finally gave $330 million man Bryce Harper a proper Philadelphia welcome to the City of Brotherly Love. After striking out in the eighth inning of a 3-1 loss to the Tigers on Tuesday, Harper was booed by the Citizens Bank crowd as he walked back to the home dugout.
“I’d do the same thing,” Harper, who also misplayed a flyball in right field, said with a shrug when asked about the boos after the game. “I mean, it’s not fun to lose. It’s not fun to watch when you’re playing that way. [I was] 0 for 4 with two punchies. I’m probably thinking the same thing walking back to the dugout."
There were a few boos for Harper on Opening Day, perhaps in jest, but Tuesday marked the first sustained boos he has heard in Philadelphia. Harper has started every game this season and enters May hitting .240 with a .388 on-base percentage, a .490 slugging percentage, six home runs and 20 RBI. The former National started hot with his new team but is 4 for 33 (. 121) with 13 strikeouts (a.k.a punchies) over his past 10 games.
“I just keep missing pitches. That’s about it,” Harper said of his recent slump. “Swing feels good, hands feel good. Just swinging at pitches out of the zone. Pretty much the same thing. Just trying to swing at a pitch over the plate and not miss it. If I can cut down on swinging on pitches out of the zone, get on base for the guys behind me, then I’ll be successful.”
Phillies Manager Gabe Kapler defended Harper, saying he believes in Harper with “every ounce” of his being and that he isn’t concerned about the outfielder’s rough stretch.
“I don’t think that baseball is meant to be evaluated in that short a period of time,” Kapler said. “There’s going to be ups, there’s going to be downs for even the best hitters in baseball. This is just a stretch that Bryce is struggling through.”
Tuesday’s reaction in Philadelphia may come as small consolation to Nationals fans, who welcomed Harper back to Nationals Park last month with a chorus of boos every time he stepped to the plate but have had few reasons to cheer their own team during a frustrating start to the season. At 16-13, the Phillies lead the Mets by one game atop the National League East standings and are 3.5 games ahead of Washington, which travels to Citizens Bank Park this weekend for a three-game set beginning Friday. Just in time for Harper to get hot again?
As former Mets general manager Steve Phillips, For the Win’s Ted Berg and others have pointed out, Harper’s performance through one month with the Phillies is about in line with what he has done throughout his career, with the exception of his MVP season in 2015.
“What he’s done so far this year is who he is,” Phillips said Wednesday on SiriusXM MLB Network Radio. “I know they gave him $330 million, but the reality is, he’s .899 career OPS and his OPS right now is .878. He’s not that far off. This is kind of who he is. He’s a low batting average, high on-base percentage guy that can slug when he hits it. He’s streaky and he does have a lot of swing-and-miss in his game."
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