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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