Bryce Harper drew big cheers, a pair of walks and a most unusual defense in his spring training debut for the Philadelphia Phillies.
Both times the slugger with the biggest contract in baseball came to the plate, the Toronto Blue Jays shifted to a four-man outfield, moved the shortstop on the other side of second base and gave the left-handed hitting Harper a wide-open left side of the infield.
“I’ve never seen that. That’s intense,” Harper said, adding he hopes teams don’t do that to him often. “If they start playing ball like that, it’s definitely different.”
Phillies manager Gabe Kapler didn’t want to discuss shift strategy but shared his advice for Harper.
“Hit a lot of homers, drive the ball like you’re capable of, do exactly what you always do, be Bryce Harper,” Kapler said.
Harper drew a loud ovation when he walked up to the plate to Will Smith’s theme song from “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.”
Wearing No. 3 on his uniform, eye black under his eyes and a white armband with “HEART” written in red letters around it, Harper dug into the batter’s box as “In West Philadelphia born and raised…” blared from the stadium’s speakers.
“The ovation they gave me, I’m very humbled, very blessed to be able to get out there and play in front of a fan base like that,” Harper said, adding he’ll probably use a different walk-up song once the season starts. “Selling out a spring training game is pretty incredible to see. Just goes to show how great a fan base Philly is.”
Batting third as the designated hitter, Harper walked twice before exiting.
“It was fun to be out there, get some dirt on my cleats, get in the batter’s box and compete. That’s what I love to do,” Harper said. “I was able to see some pitches, take two swings early in the count, see some splits from a good pitcher, really happy where I was today.”
AROUND THE GRAPEFRUIT AND CACTUS LEAGUES
BLUE JAYS 8, PHILLIES 7
Philadelphia starter Jake Arrieta gave up three hits and a walk in 1 2/3 innings. Rhys Hoskins homered for the Phillies.
Anthony Alford hit his fourth home run for Toronto and Teoscar Hernandez got two hits, raising his spring average to .522.
METS 10, RED SOX 2
Zack Wheeler pitched four shutout innings in his third start for New York, allowing one hit and striking out three. Rookie Pete Alonso hit his third home run and singled, raising his average to .423.
Eduardo Rodriguez made his third start for Boston, pitching four innings and giving up one run. Matt Barnes, in line to be the closer, was tagged in his first appearance for three runs and hits in one inning.
ORIOLES (SS) 17, RAYS 15
Austin Hays hit his third home run and a double for Baltimore. Starter Dylan Bundy gave up six runs in 1 2/3 innings. The teams combined for nine errors, six by the Orioles, and seven homers.
Tampa Bay’s Andrew Kittredge also surrendered six runs, but five were unearned. He allowed three hits and one walk, retiring five batters.
BRAVES 6, TIGERS 4
Adam Duvall and Brian McCann had RBI singles for Atlanta. Sean Newcomb struggled in his third start, pitching 2 2/3 innings and surrendering three runs on three hits and three walks.
Michael Fulmer pitched three innings in his third start for Detroit, allowing two runs on four hits and a walk.
ASTROS 9, CARDINALS 3
Adam Wainwright started for a second time for St. Louis, pitching four scoreless innings and allowing two hits and a walk. Marcell Ozuna singled and scored, snapping a 0-for-14 start.
Houston starter Collin McHugh gave up three runs in two innings.
TWINS 10, PIRATES 1
Martin Perez made his second start for Minnesota, pitching four shutout innings. Adam Rosales homered for the Twins.
Corey Dickerson had two singles for Pittsburgh, raising his average to .636.