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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Jake Arrieta confident in 'strict' protocols, sees unique opportunity for 'something special'

Jake Arrieta confident in 'strict' protocols, sees unique opportunity for 'something special'

A number of high-profile major-league players have opted out of the shortened 2020 season because of concerns about coronavirus. San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey was the latest.

The opt outs, coupled with spikes in the virus in several states that have big-league teams, have fueled doubts that the season, due to start in 12 days, will even get off the ground.

Phillies pitcher Jake Arrieta is not one of those doubters. 

“I don’t see any reason why we can’t execute a full season,” Arrieta said Saturday. “The protocols and safety guidelines we’re following here in Philadelphia are strict and for good reason. We have to take it upon ourselves to be safe. Limit interactions away from the field. We need to wear masks outside or in the clubhouse. That’s just what we need to do, be respectful and courteous to those around us.

“I don’t mean to be pessimistic. I feel like it will happen. It was scary to see Scotty (Kingery) get it and (Atlanta’s) Freddie Freeman get hit really hard the way he did. If it can happen to them, it can happen to any of us."

“There’s a lot on the line and we have an opportunity to do something special in a very strange year if we follow the protocols and I think everyone here is willing to do that.”

Arrieta was the Phillies’ pitcher the day the game was shut down by the pandemic back on March 12. He spent nearly four months at home in Austin, Texas with his wife and young son and daughter. His son, Cooper, teared up when dad left for the airport last week, but it was time to go back to work. Arrieta, 34, threw consistently during the shutdown. He got back on the mound with his teammates in Saturday’s intrasquad game.

Arrieta got 10 outs on 48 pitches. Half of the outs came on ground balls. He struck out one and walked one.

“Today was nice, very efficient,” Arrieta said. “The sinker was good. I threw some great cutters. Got a strikeout on a changeup.”

If Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler stay healthy and on track – Wheeler has the extra variable of a baby being due to arrive in a couple of weeks – Arrieta is likely to slot in third in the Phillies’ rotation. He is 18-19 with a 4.26 ERA in 55 starts over two seasons with the Phillies. He is healthy after having elbow surgery late last season. If you’re looking for X factors, or players who need to stand and deliver for this team to have success, Arrieta is right up there with Rhys Hoskins and others.
A good two-month run by Arrieta would help the Phillies’ chances greatly and springboard him into free-agency this winter. 

The shutdown has hurt the sport’s revenues and that could soften the market for players like Arrieta next winter. 

For now, Arrieta is not concerned about that.

“If you look at (Kansas City Chiefs’ quarterback Patrick) Mahomes’ deal, it shows that sports, and baseball is no different, will generate a tremendous amount of revenue regardless of what’s going on right now. We’ve seen certain TV deals be signed. Every free-agent class has obstacles. We can’t predict the future."

“We just have to play it out and see. There will be a lot of guys in the same boat as I am. I’ll handle that when time approaches."

“First and foremost, I’m concerned about the health and safety of our players and coaches and the people who provide everything they do for us, and trying to win some games.”

Arrieta will look to jump to 65 or so pitches in his next outing. He believes he will be ready to push 85 pitches in his first outing of the regular season. That could be as soon as two weeks from Sunday.

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After COVID-19 battle, Scott Kingery rejoins Phillies teammates

After COVID-19 battle, Scott Kingery rejoins Phillies teammates

Phillies second baseman Scott Kingery, who was hit hard by coronavirus, rejoined his teammates and went through a workout at Citizens Bank Park on Saturday.

Kingery took batting practice and did some fielding and throwing drills. He did not play in the team’s intrasquad game.

“I feel good physically,” Kingery said. “I’ll keep easing into things for a couple of days. I hope to get some live at-bats soon then get into a (intrasquad) game.”

It remains to be seen if Kingery will be ready to play when the season opens in 12 days. He believes he can be.

“I’m in pretty good baseball shape,” he said. “I’m just going to need to get into a live game and feel it out a little bit.”

Manager Joe Girardi said it was too early to tell whether Kingery would be ready for the opener. He said he would have a better idea where Kingery stood in a few days.

"I don't want him to end up on the injured list if his legs aren't ready," Girardi said.

The Phils have a number of veterans -- Josh Harrison, Logan Forsythe, Phil Gosselin and Neil Walker -- who can all play second base if Kingery isn't ready.

Kingery’s battle with coronavirus started on June 11. He has been healthy for more than two weeks but could not travel from his hometown of Phoenix to Philadelphia until he tested negative for the virus twice. His second negative test came back Wednesday afternoon and he took a red eye to Philadelphia that night. He arrived early Thursday morning.

Shortly after arriving in Philadelphia, Kingery was checked out by doctors. His exam included an EKG.

“They wanted to look at my heart and see if anything got messed up from COVID,” Kingery said.

All was good.

“It’s been a month-long process to get back on the field,” Kingery said. “I’m glad to be back.”

Kingery, who experienced shortness of breath when he was ill, experimented wearing a mask during drills in the field. He found it a little difficult to breathe with the mask. He’s not sure if he will continue to wear one in the field, but definitely will in the clubhouse and when around others.

Kingery knows how rugged coronavirus can be. He’s committed to following protocols.

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