Bryce Harper says Phillies 'can't just talk about' taking next step

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Bryce Harper launched an opposite-field shot for his third homer in two days, prompting a few fans to yell "M-V-P" as he circled the bases.

It's only spring training but expectations are high.

"I'm OK with it," manager Joe Girardi said of his star right fielder after the Philadelphia Phillies beat the Toronto Blue Jays 5-3 Thursday. "He's been doing it for a long time. He was 16 when he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated. He's had a lot of practice. He has a personality where he's able to stay focused on what he needs to do and he doesn't get caught up with what's going on around him."

Harper embraces the pressure and says he loves playing in Philadelphia because fans hold him "accountable." He told a Philly radio station before the game that he wants "to run through a wall for this city."

The slugger is entering his second season with the Phillies after signing a $330 million, 13-year contract last year that was the richest in baseball history until the Mike Trout got a record deal from the Angels a few weeks later.

The Phillies are counting on Harper, 27, to help them end an eight-year postseason drought. The six-time All-Star was a box office hit in 2019 when the Phillies had the largest increase in attendance in the majors. They drew 569,297 more fans than 2018 while the league average attendance overall in dropped 1.7 percent.

But the team finished 81-81 and manager Gabe Kapler lost his job.

"We need to take that next step and we actually have to do it," Harper said. "We can't just talk about it."

Harper batted .260 with 35 homers and a career-high 114 RBI last year when he missed the first couple of weeks of spring training because he was still considering where to sign in free agency. His life is less hectic now that he's settled into Philadelphia and doesn't have to think about buying a house and everything else that goes with moving. Harper and his wife, Kayla, welcomed their first child last August so he has also settled into fatherhood.

At the plate, he's in midseason form.

Harper crushed a homer way out to right field and also drove one out to left-center on Wednesday. He's 4-for-10 with 10 RBI in five games.

"That's always a good sign and he's always done that," Girardi said of Harper's opposite-field homers. "He has power to all fields. When hitters are able to do that, they're in a good spot and the big key is we have three weeks left. We don't want our guys to get bored or peak too early so you try to manage his workload the rest of the way but he's in a good spot right now."

Girardi is most impressed with the way Harper handles his business.

"How professional he is, how hard he works and how hard he plays," Girardi said. "He has a plan every day and that's one thing that we talk to the players about, have a plan every day, what are you going to do to get better every day and that's something that comes natural for him and he understands what he needs to do and he just goes and does it."

Harper spent his first seven seasons in Washington and was the 2015 NL MVP. He went to the postseason four times but the Nationals didn't win a series. After Harper left, the Nationals won the World Series. But Harper said he wasn't bitter.

"They did such a great job and I was so happy and excited for them and the players I played with," Harper said.
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