No hard feelings, right Bryce?
If the Yankees intend to make a sales pitch to Bryce Harper, a free agent at the end of this season, they’ll have to hope his painful memory of Tuesday night’s visit to the Bronx has long since faded.
Nearly halfway through his walk year, as he waits for what could be a $400-million payday this winter, Harper was hobbled twice during the Yankees’ 3-0 victory. CC Sabathia drilled him flush on the right elbow with a 91-mph fastball in the fifth inning and Dellin Betances plunked him on the left big toe with an 89-mph slider in the eighth.
Sabathia’s pitch had Harper doubled over in agony, but it was the Betances that knocked Harper out of the game. After limping around badly, Harper went straight to the dugout, essentially removing himself.
“I tried to walk down to first, but there was no point,” Harper said afterward.
As soon as the game ended, however, Harper insisted he was fine. He went into the manager’s office and told Dave Martinez he was good. No need for X-rays.
“I was kind of worried when he started walking off the field,” Martinez said. “But he’s a tough kid.”
As we sit here in mid-June, Harper wearing pinstripes next year feels like a long shot after the Yankees picked up $250 million with the Giancarlo Stanton trade last December, but we’ve learned to never say never in this business. His plan since spring training has been to stay silent about his future plans, and knowing that, reporters tiptoed around a brief session before Tuesday’s game that lasted around two minutes and contained four questions.
The first to Harper was about the current hysteria surrounding the next destination for LeBron James, and his impressions of a process that will soon include him at the end of October.
“I think that’s all sports,” Harper said. “When any guy approaches free agency, people get excited about it.”
Harper then proceeded to tick off names like Manny Machado and Mookie Betts — the latter won’t be a free agent until 2021 — predictably to make his response as general as possible. So you can probably guess how the rest of the dialogue unfolded.
How do you like New York? “It’s just another city you play in,” Harper replied.
And the configuration of Yankee Stadium, is that something to your liking? “I don’t really look at that when I hit the baseball,” Harper said. “I just try to hit the ball where they’re not.”
Harper can be an engaging interview, but he refuses to entertain any Yankee-related questions, despite saying in the past how he grew up a fan of Mickey Mantle — the 3 and 4 on his back add up to the The Mick’s No. 7 as a tribute.
It’s been a strange season so far. Harper came in leading the National League with 19 home runs, but in his previous 22 games, Harper was batting .214 (18-for-84) with a .732 OPS, a dip that included only seven walks and 33 strikeouts. Overall, he was hitting .228 — more than 50 points below his career mark — and it’s enough to suggest that free agency could be creating some additional pressure.
“We’ve had a lot of conversations about it,” Martinez said. “The one thing I know about Bryce — he wants to win and he wants to win here . . . We love him as a National. We want him as a National.”
Ultimately, that will depend on the price tag. But Martinez still has him for a while, and the Nationals — who climbed atop the NL East last week for the first time since April 3 — got another significant piece back Tuesday with Daniel Murphy’s long-awaited return from winter microfracture knee surgery. Murphy, the former Met, had been the most consistent hitter in the Nats’ lineup, batting .334 with a .956 OPS during his first two seasons in D.C. He went 0-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts Tuesday.
“It may not always look pretty,” Murphy said of playing on his repaired knee, “but my game has never been pretty.”
Those who remember his mixed history in Flushing can attest to that. When Murphy was asked if he offered any insight to Harper about playing in New York, he smiled that same combative smile. “Free agency is an offseason question,” Murphy said.
But who can wait until then?