WILL NATS FANS CHEER OR BOO EX-HERO BRYCE HARPER TONIGHT?

By Sam Bush

Nationals Park will be the District of Columbia’s center of attention.

At least for tonight!

Phillies outfielder Bryce Harper, the No. 1 overall pick by Washington in 2010, makes his return when the Nationals host the Phils.

Harper made his debut with the Nationals in 2012, was the National League MVP in 2015 and was named to the NL All-Star team six times in Washington. He signed a 13-year contract with the Phillies in late February.

What kind of reception will Harper get?

“Hopefully a happy one,” Washington shortstop Trea Turner said. “I haven’t talked to him since he signed, but hopefully the fans go crazy for him because he did a lot for us here and he had a good career here, and now we’ve got to get him out, so it begins I guess.”

Adding to the hype is that three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer will start for the Nationals and will face Harper for the first time — the first of many encounters, no doubt.

“That’s kind of the way I see it,” Scherzer said. “He’s signed there forever, basically. Or at least forever in my career. We’re going to be facing each other a lot. This is just the first. Whatever happens on Tuesday, it’s going to be the course of a career of facing him. This is just round one.”

Scherzer (0-1, 2.35) is 9-2 in his career against the Phillies in 17 starts with an ERA of 2.64.

Last year in three starts against the division rival, he fanned 30 with six walks. Harper has never faced Scherzer in a regular-season game, though they faced off in batting practice sessions in Florida during spring training.

The starting pitcher for the Phillies is right-hander Zach Eflin (11-8, 4.36 ERA in 2018), who is 1-1 with a 5.93 ERA in three career starts against Washington.

The Nationals picked up their first win Sunday as Turner hit a solo, walk-off homer in the last of the ninth to beat the New York Mets 6-5. Washington was nearly swept in its opening series for the first time since 2009, and its new-look bullpen has struggled early on.

Harper launched his first homer for the Phils on Saturday — a 465-foot shot at home against the Atlanta Braves. The exit velocity was 113.7 miles per hour.

“It was really cool,” Harper told reporters. “Definitely one of the cooler homers I’ve ever hit. Just the fan base, just the stadium, the electricity we had in this place, it all came together.”

Teammate Rhys Hoskins said he could not hear himself think on the on-deck circle as his new teammate trotted around the bases.

“I think there’s more in there,” Hoskins said of the homer. “We’re in March. What happens when we’re in September and October?”

Harper (.333) had two hits, including his second homer, Sunday night in a 5-1 win as the Phillies completed a three-game sweep of the Braves.

It may be loud Tuesday night in Washington — but not all cheers will be for Harper. Nationals manager Dave Martinez is looking at the big picture.

“He plays on a different team now, so we’re going to try to win games,” Martinez said.

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