Bryce Harper walks twice in Phillies debut, gets cheers and a 4-man outfield

Bryce Harper drew big cheers, two walks and an unusual defense in his Grapefruit League debut for the Philadelphia Phillies.

Both times the outfielder with the biggest contract in baseball came to the plate, the Toronto Blue Jays shifted to a four-man outfield, moved the shortstop on the other side of second base and gave the left-handed hitting Harper a wide-open left side of the infield.

“I’ve never seen that. That’s intense,” Harper said, adding he hopes teams don’t do that often. “If they start playing ball like that, it’s definitely different.”

Phillies manager Gabe Kapler didn’t want to discuss shift strategy but shared his advice for Harper.

“Hit a lot of homers, drive the ball like you’re capable of, do exactly what you always do, be Bryce Harper,” Kapler said.

The Cubs, Astros and Rockies have employed a four-man outfield, but it was quite strange in an exhibition game.

No surprise, however, was the loud ovation fans gave Harper when he walked up to the plate to Will Smith’s theme song from “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”

Wearing No. 3 on his uniform, eye black under his eyes and a white armband with “HEART” written in red letters around it, Harper dug into the batter’s box as “In West Philadelphia born and raised …” blared from the stadium’s speakers.

“The ovation they gave me, I’m very humbled, very blessed to be able to get out there and play in front of a fan base like that,” Harper said, adding he’ll probably use a different walk-up song once the season starts. “Selling out a spring training game is pretty incredible to see. Just goes to show how great a fan base Philly is.”

Batting third as the designated hitter, Harper didn’t go deep but jogged around the bases after Rhys Hoskins blasted a two-run homer off Jays right-hander Matt Shoemaker in the first.

“It was fun to be out there, get some dirt on my cleats, get in the batter’s box and compete. That’s what I love to do,” Harper said. “I was able to see some pitches, take two swings early in the count, see some splits from a good pitcher, really happy where I was today.”

Maldonado to K.C.: A person familiar with the deal said the Kansas City Royals agreed to a one-year, $2.5 million deal with Martin Maldonado, giving them a veteran replacement for catcher Salvador Perez, who had Tommy John surgery Wednesday.

The deal, which was still pending a physical, includes up to $1.4 million in incentives for games caught.

Maldonado spent last season with the Angels and Astros, hitting .225 with nine homers and 44 RBIs in 119 games. But his biggest strength is his ability to frame pitches and play defense, and his experience should help what is expected to be a young Royals team this season.

Seattle’s starters vs. A’s: Seattle left-hander Marco Gonzales will get the Opening Night start for the Mariners when they begin the 2019 season in Japan against the A’s on March 20. Seattle’s Yusei Kikuchi will get the ball for the second game of the series.

Kikuchi already was going to be in the spotlight returning to Japan after signing with the Mariners in the offseason.

Gonzales getting the nod ends Felix Hernandez’s run of 10 starts in openers for Seattle. Gonzales, who is beginning his second full season with Seattle, was 13-9 with a 4.00 ERA last season.

Briefly: Masahiro Tanaka will be the New York Yankees’ opening day starter March 28 against Baltimore, taking the spot left open by Luis Severino’s shoulder trouble. … Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager will see a hand specialist after rolling his left wrist during a spring training game.

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