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Bryce Harper won’t have to worry about shifts in Home Run Derby

July 15, 2018

Bryce Harper will step into the batter’s box at Nationals Park on Monday night, and for once he won’t have to worry about defensive shifts.

On the big stage in his home park, Harper will be the No. 2 seed in the T-Mobile Home Run Derby and face No. 7 seed Freddie Freeman of National League East rival Atlanta.

Harper last took part in the Home Run Derby in 2013 at Citi Field, the home of the New York Mets.

“I think doing it is going to be a lot of fun,” Harper said. “I was able to participate in New York the first time and it was a lot of fun. If I win, I win. If I don’t, it’s part of it. I’m just excited to hopefully share that day with my dad.”

Harper’s father threw to him in 2013.

Freeman is a line drive hitter who can smash the ball to all fields.

In his career, Freeman is hitting .320 in 63 games at Nationals Park with 21 doubles and seven homers. In 231 at-bats, he has an OPS of .907.

“I might have sent a text to (Harper) earlier to start the trash talking,” Freeman told MLB.com. “It should be fun. I’m hoping the fans are too excited for him and he gets nervous and hits zero. But we’ll see what happens.”

The Harper-Freeman winner will meet the survivor of No. 3 seed Max Muncy of the Los Angeles Dodgers against No. 6 seed Javier Baez of the Chicago Cubs.

The other first-round pairings on the left side of the bracket are No. 1 seed Jesus Aguilar of the Brewers against No. 8 seed Rhys Hoskins of the Phillies and No. 4 Alex Bregman of Houston against No. 5 seed Kyle Schwarber of the Cubs.

Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees won the event last year in Miami.

Harper was hitting .214 with 23 homers and 54 RBI prior to Sunday’s game against the Mets.

The outfielder entered this season with a .285 career average.

Agent Scott Boras told reporters earlier this month at Nationals Park that defensive shifts are “discriminatory” against left-handed hitters such as Harper.

But Harper is also striking out at a higher rate this year than his career norm. In games through Saturday he had fanned 102 times in 327 at-bats this season, a percentage of 31.1.

He entered this season with a strikeout percentage of 24.1 in his career.

“I think based on the information and how they are pitched, they feel the need to shift,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said last week. “The league is going to make adjustments. Teams are going to adjust. Players at some point need to make an adjustment as well. When Bryce is going good he will beat the shift.”

“We try not to bring it up,” Martinez added. “Take your walks (and) see the ball, hit the ball. It is how the game is changing now. He gets it. You see everyone playing on one side of the field” when he comes to the plate.

The Las Vegas native, who will start in the outfield for the National League on Tuesday, is in the final year of his contract and will be a free agent after this season. Boras had thrown out the figure of $400 million to sign Harper, and Nationals fans have debated in recent days the wisdom in committing that much money to Harper.

Then on Friday night, Harper did not hustle when he hit into a ground-ball double play against the Mets.

“He didn’t run that ball out the way I want him to, so we’ll talk about that tomorrow,” Martinez told reporters Friday in New York.

“I’ve spoken to Bryce and that’s a conversation that will stay between Bryce and myself,” Martinez told reporters Saturday.

At least on Monday, all Harper has to worry about his knocking the ball over the fence.

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