Jul 6, 2015, 5:30 PM EST
Bryce Harper won’t participate in this year’s Home Run Derby, not wanting to compete in the annual All-Star Game event with his father injured and unavailable to pitch to him.
Harper, who finished runner-up in the 2013 derby at Citi Field with father Ron as his pitcher, said he couldn’t imagine participating again with anybody else on the mound. Ron Harper recently had surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff and hasn’t fully healed yet.
“Not having my dad throw with me, it’s a huge issue for me,” Harper said Monday afternoon before the Nationals’ series opener against the Reds. “I think being comfortable on a stage like that with somebody that I know can throw strikes for me, knows where my sweet spot’s at … you know, that’s huge for me. So hopefully in a couple years he’ll be OK and we’ll see where I go.”
Ron Harper became an integral part of the 2013 derby, sharing the spotlight with his then-20-year-old son and throwing enough pitches over the plate to lead to 24 total homers over three rounds, ending with a loss to Yoenis Cespedes in the finals.
“We always talked about it,” Ron Harper said that night in New York. “When he was a little guy. Not after he got drafted, but when he was tiny. He said: ‘If I ever get to do that, I want you to throw to me.’ Yeah, it was a dream come true.”
Harper was injured last season and wasn’t selected for the All-Star Game in Minneapolis, but he has developed this season into one of the sport’s most-feared power hitters, entering play Monday with 25 homers (second to Giancarlo Stanton in the NL) and a league-best .722 slugging percentage.
Selected by fans to start next week’s game in Cincinnati with an NL-record 13,864,950 votes, Harper was offered the opportunity to participate in the derby once again. He considered it but said he didn’t want to do it without his father involved.
Several prominent players have taken a pass on the derby in recent years, concerned the event can ruin their swing. Harper insisted that wasn’t a factor in this decision.
“I don’t think it really changes your swing at all,” he said. “I mean, I could go out and play a round of golf and come out and play nine innings today and I wouldn’t have a problem. So that’s definitely not an issue for me.”
Nationals manager Matt Williams said he supported Harper’s decision and insisted he played no role in the decision-making process.
“No, none,” Williams said. “I know his dad’s coming off surgery, shoulder surgery. And that’s his guy. The All-Star Game, for me, is a time to enjoy the process and to enjoy being there. It’s an honor to be asked. It’s an honor to be asked to be in the Home Run Derby. But it’s certainly Bryce’s decision whether to participate or not. There’s no conversations that happens between us that would be an attempt to deter him from being in it.”
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