There was a real feeling last spring that Bryce Harper was going to explode in his second season with the Philadelphia Phillies.
Instead, COVID-19 limited his age-27 season to being just 60 games long. A back injury also hampered him for at least half of the 2020 campaign.
Make no mistake, Harper was still very productive in his second season with the Phillies. He slashed .268/.420/.542 with 13 home runs, 33 RBIs and a league-leading 49 walks. Still, at one point in 2020, Harper had 18 consecutive games without a home run. A year after being a Gold Glove Award finalist, Harper regressed to -1 defensive runs saved in 2020, which can probably be directly attributed to his back injury.
So as Harper prepares for his third season in red pinstripes, manager Joe Girardi was asked, with the benefit of hindsight, to reflect on how the injury may have kept a very productive year from being an MVP-caliber one.
“It definitely affected him,” Girardi said Friday of Harper’s back injury during the 2020 season. “We’re expecting him to come into camp healthy, but obviously we’re going to evaluate that when we get here, and as he starts to go through everything, if we have to slow down a little bit, then we have to slow down a little bit. There’s plenty of time to get ready in spring training. I mean I saw him last year and I thought he was ready within about a week of games. So we’ll pace ourselves a little bit with Bryce, to make sure that he clears every hurdle because you can do everything at home…you can hit…you can throw…you can run…but it’s different when you’re on spikes and you’re on a baseball field and the intensity is up. So, it’s something I will keep a watchful eye on…I know Paul [Buchheit] our trainer has kept a watchful eye on Bryce and we’ll have to make sure that we keep him as strong as possible.”
Harper and all the Phillies position players are due to report to Clearwater Sunday, and Girardi and company will have their first full squad workout on Monday.
It will be interesting to see how Girardi manages Harper in spring training. He’s yet to have a traditional spring as a Phillie. In 2019, he didn’t sign with the team until the waning days of February. Last year, he homered four times in 21 spring training at-bats, looking fully primed for his traditional quick start before COVID-19 shut the world down. How much the Phillies push Harper, especially early in camp, will be something to monitor.
Come April 1, though, Harper will be tasked with leading the effort to help the Phillies avoid a 10th consecutive season without reaching the postseason, the third he would be a part of.
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