The Bryce Harper off-day debate wears on as Phillies' offense goes silent again

The Bryce Harper off-day debate wears on as Phillies' offense goes silent again

Tuesday was a quiet night for the Phillies, save for a scare in the top of the sixth inning.

Bryce Harper, who is struggling mightily at the plate, made two more impact plays in right field, sliding catches in foul territory. The first, to lead off the sixth, left him shaken up and limping. As Phillies fans held their collective breath, manager Gabe Kapler and trainer Scott Sheridan went out to check on Harper, who promised them he was OK after banging his knee.

He proved he was OK two plays later when he made almost the exact same catch. That makes four sliding or diving catches for Harper in the Phillies' last three games.

That was the positive. The negative, again, was a hitless, multi-strikeout game for Harper, who is down to .219 on the season. 

"I think he's just pressing a little bit, under a lot of pressure to perform," Kapler said after the 6-1 loss. "It's just not there for him right now, but you don't bet against that character. His kind of toughness plays long term. He's everything you want in a teammate and everything you want representing your club."

The topic of whether Harper needs a day off came up again. Harper has played all 41 games this season and would ideally like to play 162. There is a school of thought that resting him could give him the recharge he needs. 

But there isn’t any sort of proof it would benefit Harper and it wouldn’t benefit the Phillies. Having Harper in the lineup gives the Phillies a better chance to win than not having him in the lineup, whether or not he’s in a funk. 

Maybe if the Phillies had an actual off day, they could give Harper a rest the day before so he had 48 full hours off his feet. But they don't have another off day until May 27.

Kapler just isn't convinced that sitting a healthy Harper will be beneficial.

"It's something I will continually talk to Bryce about but unless I have a good reason where I think it's gonna serve him well, I'm not gonna do it," the manager said. "It's got to be rooted in something rational and right now for me, I just don't have a good reason for him to not play tomorrow's baseball game and the next day's baseball game. 

"He always gives us our best chance to win. We're always this far from him going deep or getting on base three or four more times. I don't know why we wouldn't want him in there for tomorrow's game."

Harper said he'd assess how he feels Wednesday but is of a similar mindset to Kapler. He's been around long enough, been through enough slumps to know that sometimes being out there everyday is the way to get back on track.

"In baseball, going out there each day and trying to get out of it ... I'm not sure a day off is going to work for me mentally or physically," Harper said. "Just got to keep grinding, keep trying to get through."

The Phillies, with their slumping former MVP, have been a feast or famine offense through six weeks. In nine of their 17 losses, they've scored one or no runs. On Tuesday, they had one hit headed into the eighth inning. They were able to walk five times in their first 13 plate appearances against hard-throwing Brandon Woodruff but couldn't scrape across a run with him in the game.

They also haven't been homering much lately. Over their last six games, the only two home runs have come from Cesar Hernandez. 

The Brewers homered twice in the first three innings against Jerad Eickhoff, who entered the night with a 30-inning homerless streak. He didn't get a fastball high enough or sufficiently inside to Yasmani Grandal in the second inning and paid the price. An inning later, Ryan Braun continued his devastation of Citizens Bank Park with a two-run shot.

The Phillies didn't want to use Milwaukee's tough lineup as an excuse. For Eickhoff, it's time to regroup and prepare for the next start, which comes Sunday against another top offense in the Rockies.

"It's a pretty tough lineup but so was St. Louis and so were a lot of the other lineups we've faced," Kapler said. "There's not many cupcakes out there. Eick just didn't have his best curveball or best command tonight. Turn the page and move on."

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After giving up 7 runs on 856 feet worth of homers, does Cole Irvin get another start?

After giving up 7 runs on 856 feet worth of homers, does Cole Irvin get another start?

CHICAGO — And this is why you need to close out those one-run leads in the ninth inning when you have a chance to take two in a row from the hard-hitting Chicago Cubs in their electric home-field environs of Wrigley Field …

Because sooner or later, the Cubs are going to break out the lumber and lay a beating on you.

That’s just what happened to the Phillies on Wednesday night. Twenty-four hours after they suffered a painful walk-off loss to the Cubs, the Phils were pounded by a score of 8-4 (see observations). The Phils are now tasked with the difficult challenge of beating Jon Lester in Thursday’s series finale to get out of Chicago with a split. Then it’s on to face another lumber company in Milwaukee, the same one that outscored the Phils, 22-6, in the final three games of a four-game series last week in Philadelphia.

The Cubs didn’t need to wait until the ninth inning to beat the Phillies on Wednesday night and they didn’t do it against the bullpen. They teed off on rookie lefty Cole Irvin for 856 feet worth of home runs in the third and fifth innings. Anthony Rizzo belted a mammoth three-run shot in the third and Albert Almora Jr. crushed a first-pitch grand slam in the fifth.

Later in the game, the Cubs got a 449-foot homer from Javiez Baez against Enyel De Los Santos. All of the Cubbies’ runs came on homers.

“The wind was blowing out,” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said. “We saw what it looked like in batting practice. The ball was rocketing out of the ballpark.”

The Phils were only able to rocket one ball out of the yard, but Andrew McCutchen’s solo shot in the eighth was too little too late.

The big subplot in this game was Cole Hamels. The lefty made his first-ever start against his former club. The Phillies jumped out to a 3-0 lead on Hamels, blew up his pitch count and got him out of the game after four innings. But the Phillies needed to do more against Hamels. They left two men in scoring position in the first inning and the bases loaded in the fourth.

“The difference in the game was we really did a good job of building Hamels’ pitch count, but they were able to deliver the knockout blows,” Kapler said. “They scored all of their runs on two swings [against Irvin]. We just weren't able to deliver that one knockout blow, that uppercut. They were able to do that.”

Irvin is a command lefty who can’t afford to miss spots up and over the plate. He tried to go down and away with a 3-0 fastball against Rizzo in the third and the Cubs’ slugger crushed the heart-of-the-plate pitch off the scoreboard to tie the game.

Irvin pitched around Willson Contreras in the fifth to get to Almora. The walk to Contreras loaded the bases and brought pitching coach Chris Young to the mound. The plan was to go at Almora with changeups, but not, as Irvin said, with changeups that were “middle-in and belt high.” Irvin’s first pitch to Almora was right there and the Cubs’ centerfielder crushed it for four runs.

“Unfortunately, I just didn't make my pitch there and didn't make my pitch to Rizzo, either,” Irvin said. “They hurt me for it. I didn’t even get through five innings so I’m really disappointed.”

The big question now is: Will Irvin get another start next week against the Cardinals at home? His performance in his first two big-league starts would suggest that he deserves a look beyond a difficult outing in his third big-league start. But the Phillies can easily go in a different direction because Vince Velasquez is just about ready to come off the disabled list. That issue was talked about extensively before the game (see story).

After the game, Kapler wasn’t ready to make any decisions.

“I think that’s something that we want to spend some time thinking about,” he said. “After a loss like this and after we just kind of got punched, I think the main thing is that we go back and digest and look at what happened in the game and really evaluate it with a little distance between what happened. That’s usually how I approach those things.”

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Cubs 8, Phillies 4: Cubs drop a couple of big bombs on rookie Cole Irvin

Cubs 8, Phillies 4: Cubs drop a couple of big bombs on rookie Cole Irvin


CHICAGO — The Chicago Cubs, ranked fourth in the majors in runs per game and OPS, showed off their thunderous lineup in laying an 8-4 beating on the Phillies at sold-out Wrigley Field on Wednesday night.

The Phils actually held an early 3-0 lead on Cole Hamels, who faced his old team for the first time. Hamels did not pitch well, but neither did Phillies rookie Cole Irvin. He allowed seven runs on a three-run homer and a grand slam. All eight of the Cubs’ runs came on homers.

The loss was the Phillies’ second in as many nights against the Cubs. The Phils blew a one-run lead in the ninth on Tuesday night and suffered a walk-off loss.

The Phils remain atop the NL East at 28-21.

The keys

• Irvin is a pitcher who needs to locate well and change speeds. He doesn’t have the stuff to survive in the middle of the plate. He was hurt badly by two juicy pitches over the heart of the plate. Anthony Rizzo crushed a grooved, 3-0 fastball that registered just 87.7 mph high off the scoreboard in right field for a game-tying three-run homer in the third inning and Albert Almora Jr. clubbed a two-out grand slam in the fourth on a first-pitch changeup that was up and over the heart of the plate.

• Phillies hitters made Hamels throw pitches. He ran his count to 99 and was out of the game after four innings. The Phils got to Hamels for three runs, but they could have done more. They left runners at second and third in the first inning and the bases full in the fourth.

Irvin's night

The rookie lefty showed moments of poise. For instance, after serving up the 437-foot, three-run bomb to Rizzo with no outs in the third, he got three quick outs on his way to retiring seven straight. But the walls caved in in the fifth when he gave up a one-out double and two walks to set the table for Almora.

In all, Irvin gave up seven hits, four for extra bases, in 4 2/3 innings. He’s had two good starts and one poor one. The poor one came in an intimidating environment against an intimidating lineup. It would not be surprising if Phillies officials took that into account and stuck with Irvin for his next turn (see story). If they decide against that, they could reinsert Vince Velasquez into the rotation. He’s pretty much recovered from a sore elbow and ready to go and the Phils face a decision on what to do with him (see story).

Center of attention

Scott Kingery got his second straight start in center field and third in four games since coming off the injured list. He misplayed a routine fly ball in the third and it hurt. The ball dropped in for a single and Rizzo followed with his three-run homer. Kingery, primarily an infielder, has not looked completely comfortable the last two nights in center field.

Harper's night

Bryce Harper had three hits, including a bunt single in the Phils’ two-run third inning. Surprisingly, it was the 11th bunt single of Harper’s career and second this season.

Up next

The four-game series comes to an end Thursday afternoon with a good pitching matchup — Aaron Nola (4-0, 4.47) against Jon Lester (3-2, 2.09). The Phils need a win for a series split.

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