Phillies

Bryce Harper back to feeling like Bryce Harper as Phillies head to the Midwest with something to prove

Bryce Harper back to feeling like Bryce Harper as Phillies head to the Midwest with something to prove

For a little while, all of those "What's wrong with Bryce Harper?" pieces can be shelved. 

Harper's not on the verge of breaking out of his slump. He's already broken out of it.

"It's not a close thing, I think he's there," manager Gabe Kapler said after the Phillies completed a weekend sweep of the visiting Rockies with a 7-5 win.

Harper had the game-winning home run, a 404-foot blast into the Phillies' bullpen to untie the game in the sixth inning (see observations). It was his second straight game with a homer and gave him four extra-base hits in his last three games. He's raised his slugging percentage by 47 points over that span.

"He might not get two hits and a home run tomorrow, but that doesn't mean he's not where he needs to be," Kapler said. "I think the home run that he hit to center field (Saturday) was the turning point and the moment where he started to feel more like Bryce."

In the all-important sixth inning Sunday, J.T. Realmuto tied the game with a pinch-hit home run off of a right-handed reliever and Harper followed three batters later with the deciding home run against a left-handed reliever. The inning highlighted how the Phillies' best hitters are equipped to deal with specialists from both sides. 

Realmuto's longball came against veteran reliever Bryan Shaw, who has lasted 10 years in the bigs because of his ability to retire right-handed hitters. Coming into Sunday, righties were 8 for 58 against Shaw, hitting .138.

Realmuto, like Rhys Hoskins, has reverse career platoon splits. Realmuto's hit .286 against righties with a .777 OPS compared to .250 vs. lefties with a .730 OPS. From 2016-18, Jean Segura and Realmuto ranked second and third in the majors, respectively, batting .292 and .291 against right-handed breaking balls.

The pitch Realmuto hit out from Shaw was not a breaking ball but a changeup. It was his first career pinch-hit home run and it came a few days after Kapler noted that Realmuto's power should be coming based on the quality of hard contact he'd been making.

Harper, meanwhile, took Dunn deep for the second time in a month. He is hitting .304/.407/.537 this season against lefties with six doubles and three homers.

Rare is the left-handed power hitter who doesn't have a major hole in his swing against lefties. Harper is that rare lefty. Last season, he had nine homers, 12 doubles and an .857 OPS against southpaws. The pace he's on this year is even better.

Harper knows he's faced Dunn a ton but doesn't pay attention to his career numbers against him or many other pitchers for that matter.

"He's always been a tough matchup for me," Harper said of Dunn. "Since I was younger, 2012, faced him my rookie year in the East when he was with Miami. Being able to face a guy like that, see his tendencies ... got him today.

"I just go with the feel. I don't really look at (the batter vs. pitcher matchup). Any given day, you could go out there and punch me out in three pitches, it's part of the game. Just gotta keep going. Any given day could be different."

In the span of three days, the Phillies removed the bad taste of the Brewers series from their mouths. They followed a season-high three straight losses with three straight wins. They head to Chicago leading the Braves by 2½ games, the Mets by 6½ games and the Nationals by 7½ games, pending Sunday night's result.

In Chicago, Harper's sample size of 54 plate appearances against lefties will grow. The Phillies face three straight lefties Tuesday through Thursday in Jose Quintana, Cole Hamels and Jon Lester.

The Phillies aren't looking past the Cubs, who are the hottest team in baseball. But they definitely have the following series circled.

"We're really looking forward to getting back at Milwaukee," said Jerad Eickhoff, who started Sunday's game. 

"We didn't put our best foot forward against them. We're gonna take care of Chicago first and go into Milwaukee with a chip on our shoulder."

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The hero again, Jay Bruce making a huge impact on the field and on his Phillies teammates

The hero again, Jay Bruce making a huge impact on the field and on his Phillies teammates

Imagine where this Phillies team would be without Jay Bruce.

When the Phillies acquired Bruce from Seattle on June 2, it was to be a platoon outfielder and extra bench bat, a player who could come off the pine, pop one and change the game.

Less than a month later, he's become one of the most instrumental bats in their lineup.

Bruce did what no other Phillie has done this season: delivered a walk-off win. His line shot off Stephen Nogosek in the 10th inning Wednesday sailed over the head of centerfielder Juan Lagares (who was playing much shallower than you'd expect) and sent the Phillies' dugout into a frenzy with a 5-4 win (see observations). Rookie Edgar Garcia, the winning pitcher, rushed to dump the Gatorade jug over Bruce's head. The party was on.

Make that three straight nights the Phillies have come back to beat the plummeting Mets. They overcame a two-run deficit Monday, a three-run deficit Tuesday and a four-run deficit Wednesday. It's probably best they don't continue the pattern.

"I don't think there's any way I could actually express it in words, how important he's been to the club," manager Gabe Kapler said of Bruce. "He spent a tremendous amount of time in the clubhouse getting to know our players very quickly. You guys have seen how many big hits he's gotten for us and how clutch he's been.

"I talked to him this morning about the possibility of maybe giving him a day. We have some [right-handed starting pitching opponents] coming up. I thought maybe it might be a good time to get him off his feet. It wasn't a push or anything. It was an open conversation between two grown-ups. He said, 'I'm in there. Not only am I in there, but I give the Phillies the best chance to win a baseball game.' And as he was coming off the field right there, he said, 'I told you.' And I believe him.

"Everything he has said has been true — from the time he got to the Phillies, from the time he walked into my office in San Diego and said he was still a strong enough defender to put out there every day, that his body was capable of bouncing back. He's proven that to be true. That he can hit left-handed pitching. He's proven that to be true. I'll never doubt another word that Jay Bruce says."

As a Phillie, Bruce has hit .294 with an OPS just under 1.000. He has seven home runs, four doubles and 20 RBI in 19 games. Keep in mind, his arrival coincided with the season-ending injury to Andrew McCutchen, Odubel Herrera's arrest, and the beginning of cold spells for Jean Segura and Cesar Hernandez.

Bruce's bat has, in many ways, kept the Phillies afloat and prevented further disaster in the month of June.

"Jay's an awesome guy. He brings energy to the field every day, he's happy, he competes," said Nick Pivetta, who had a rough outing. "I've faced him before, he's not an easy out. He's really helping us do a lot of great things. It's been a pleasure to watch him play."

Bruce is no stranger to walk-off hits. This was the 12th of his career. In the span of 19 games, he has been the key hitter in at least five and probably six of the Phillies' 10 wins. Metrics like Win Probability Added and Wins Above Replacement are more complicated than just accounting for game-winning or game-breaking hits, but Bruce has literally added a few more wins to the Phillies' total than they'd otherwise have. 

He has shown how much added value an acquisition can bring when it's completed far ahead of the trade deadline.

"I definitely, and you can ask anybody, I want to be the guy up at the plate with a chance to end it," Bruce said. "But I think that you learn throughout your career how to approach and how to handle those situations. The biggest message I talk to myself every single at-bat in a situation like that is to just do less. Try to do less. Try not to force the situation. All the cliches, start taking it pitch by pitch.

"These guys have made it so easy on me, man. It’s been unbelievable. They’ve been so great as far as kind of welcoming me, allowing me to be myself, integrating myself in the clubhouse. I think one of the things I feel is the most important when you get traded — now being traded four times — is integrating yourself in the clubhouse. Being a little vulnerable, opening up, getting to know guys, kind of understanding how guys tick and what the team is like. I think that’s really important."

Moments after Bruce finished answering questions, he grabbed an adult beverage, pulled up a chair and joined the circle of Rhys Hoskins, Scott Kingery, Andrew Knapp and Sean Rodriguez in conversation.

"Ray Bjuce!" Knapp yelled, a nickname that probably won't stick.

It feels like Bruce has been with the Phillies a lot longer than 24 days.

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Phillies 5, Mets 4 (10 innings): Phillies come back for 3rd straight night, notch 1st walk-off of 2019

Phillies 5, Mets 4 (10 innings): Phillies come back for 3rd straight night, notch 1st walk-off of 2019

BOX SCORE 

It took 80 games but the Phillies have their first walk-off win of 2019. Jay Bruce smoked an RBI double over the centerfielder's head in the bottom of the 10th to give the Phillies a 5-4 win and a third straight victory over the Mets.

The Phillies came back from a two-run deficit to win Game 1, a three-run deficit to win Game 2 and a four-run deficit to win Game 3. The Mets' bullpen has been a total disaster, especially lately, which made beleaguered Mets manager Mickey Callaway's decision to pull starter Jason Vargas after just 77 pitches across 6⅓ mostly dominant innings even more strange.

The Phillies took advantage of that highly questionable decision in the sixth inning, scoring three runs on an RBI double by Cesar Hernandez and a game-tying, bases-loaded two-run single by Jean Segura, who homered an inning earlier.

Hernandez has six straight multi-hit games. Segura has nine home runs, just one fewer than he had last season.

The Phillies are 42-38; the Mets are 37-44.

Happy to see you go

The Phillies were thrilled to see Vargas exit this game. The veteran finesse lefty matched a career-high with 10 strikeouts over 6⅓ innings and allowed just five of the 24 batters he faced to reach base. 

Callaway, who has come under tremendous fire lately for the team's poor performance, his questionable managerial decisions and his tirade toward a Newsday reporter over the weekend, pulled Vargas after 77 pitches for reliever Seth Lugo. He did it despite the fact that every Mets setup man has failed this month to get the ball from the starting pitcher to closer Edwin Diaz. 

From a Phillies perspective, it paid off, just as it did 24 hours earlier when Callaway turned to his worst reliever, Wilmer Font, with the game on the line in the decisive sixth inning.

Another stressful night for Pivetta 

It was not a strong night for Nick Pivetta, who allowed a pair of solo homers and four runs total over 5⅔ innings. 

The most surprising aspect of Pivetta's start was the lack of whiffs. Just two of the 40 fastballs he threw resulted in a swinging strike and both were by the opposing pitcher, Vargas. Pivetta struck out only three batters and two were Vargas, who singled in his first AB.

Pivetta allowed a baserunner in every inning and pitched out of the stretch to 17 of the 29 batters he faced.

In six starts since returning from his stint in the minors, Pivetta has a 4.30 ERA and has allowed nine home runs in 37 innings. The Phillies are 2-4 in those games.

Phillies starting pitchers have allowed 15 runs in 16⅔ innings in the series.

Add McNeil to the list

Of Phillie-killers, that is. The guy is just a really good hitter. Strong contact skills, sneaky power, hits pitchers from both sides. McNeil followed Tuesday's four-hit game by going 2 for 4 with a solo homer, an RBI double and a walk.

In 20 career games against the Phillies, McNeil has hit .456 with 11 extra-base hits in 85 plate appearances (36-79).

Draft news

According to a source, Phillies first-round pick Bryson Stott is in Philadelphia for a physical. GM Matt Klentak had said Monday the Phillies expected to sign Stott this week. The deal could be completed as soon as Thursday morning.

Up next

The four-game series concludes tomorrow afternoon at 1:05 when Aaron Nola (6-2, 4.55) takes on Zack Wheeler (6-5, 4.69).

Wheeler has been as up-and-down this season as Nola. In his last start, Wheeler allowed one run to the Cubs over seven innings. His prior two times out, he allowed 14 runs on 20 hits in 10⅔ innings.

The Phillies faced Wheeler twice in one week in April. In those two games, Wheeler gave up three runs in seven innings in a Mets loss and went seven scoreless with 11 punchouts in a Mets win.

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