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This is why Phils' GM isn't worried about Bryce

@paul_casella
May 14, 2019

PHILADELPHIA -- Phillies general manager Matt Klentak knows exactly what it's like to sign a marquee free agent to a massive contract, then watch him struggle in some ways out of the gate. After all, it was Klentak who played a role in signing Albert Pujols to a 10-year, $240

PHILADELPHIA -- Phillies general manager Matt Klentak knows exactly what it's like to sign a marquee free agent to a massive contract, then watch him struggle in some ways out of the gate.

After all, it was Klentak who played a role in signing Albert Pujols to a 10-year, $240 million deal with the Angels prior to the 2012 season, when Klentak was the assistant general manager. Pujols hit .197 with a .510 OPS through May 14 in that first season, before hitting .312 with a .964 OPS and 29 homers over the final 119 games -- and he was 32 years old at the time.

So it's no surprise that Klentak isn't all that worried about 26-year-old Bryce Harper, who entered Tuesday's game hitting .222 with an .805 OPS -- nearly 300 points higher than Pujols at this time during the first season of his megadeal.

"I don’t have any concerns with Bryce," Klentak said. "I do think we need to recognize that all players, including the best players in the league, are going to go through stretches where they’re not at their best. Bryce has had these before -- he had a stretch like this early last year, in fact -- and what great players do is they work themselves out of it."

Harper had a 25-game stretch from April 21-May 20 last season with the Nationals during which he hit .178 with a .699 OPS and 22 strikeouts. That left him with a .222 season average through May 20 -- the same mark he had entering Tuesday.

As for this season, Harper leads the National League with 31 walks, but he also is tied for the Major League lead with 54 strikeouts. No player has led the NL outright in both categories since Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt did so for the Phillies in 1983.

"One of the things that I like about Bryce’s style of play is that, even when he is struggling offensively, he takes his walks," Klentak said. "And it’s hard for players to really get into prolonged slumps when they have the patience that Bryce has. That’s why we can see right now, even though he may not be getting the hits he’s hoping to get, he’s still reaching base at a good clip and positively impacting our club."

Harper's .367 OBP helps to somewhat offset the fact that he has struck out in 30.5 percent of his plate appearances this season, well above his career average of 21.5 percent. His previous career high for a season is 26.3 percent in 2014.

"I don’t love strikeouts offensively, but I think strikeouts -- when they’re balanced out with a high walk rate -- are OK," Klentak said. " ... I also don’t think Bryce is going to strike out at this clip all year."

Klentak added that it's important to remember that this is only a 40-game sample from a guy who has played 967 big league games -- and will play plenty more over the course of his 13-year deal.

"I look at the body of work in this guy’s career. He has power, he takes walks, he hustles his [butt] off," Klentak said. "Have we seen all those things? Yes. Does he strike out? Yes, and he always has. So we’re seeing all of the elements that Bryce Harper has had in his career, and we’ll probably continue to see a lot of those things."

Quinn progressing, may hit exclusively from right side

Roman Quinn (strained right groin) remains without a timetable for his return, but manager Gabe Kapler said the Phillies are considering using the outfielder exclusively as a right-handed hitter upon his return.

A switch-hitter to this point in his career, Quinn has a .277/.319/.492 career line from the right side of the plate, compared to a .230/.317/.297 line hitting left-handed. Nothing is official at this point, but Quinn has been standing in the batter's box during bullpen sessions for some of the Phillies' right-handers to get some reps seeing the ball out of their hand from the right side of the plate.

"I'm not sure it's related in any way to keeping him healthy, but one thing we think it might help with a lot is his confidence," Kapler said. "It's his natural side and he's been pretty good from the right side."

News and notes

• Victor Arano (right elbow inflammation) threw 20 pitches, all fastballs, off the mound on Tuesday. Kapler said all went well with the session.

• Scott Kingery began his rehab assignment with Class A Lakewood on Tuesday night. He started at shortstop for the BlueClaws, though he's also expected to see time at second, third and possibly center field during his rehab stint.

Paul Casella is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter @paul_casella.