Phillies

Bryce Harper is getting hot and playing with some fire

Bryce Harper is getting hot and playing with some fire

If the Phillies are going to emerge from the six-week funk that caused their nosedive from first to third place in the National League East and eventually make a run at a playoff spot, they are going to need Bryce Harper to be The Man in the middle of their batting order.

They need a lot of other things, too — like improved starting pitching — but they really need Harper to produce big and play with the fire and passion that rubs off on everyone else.

In other words, they need him to do what he did Thursday afternoon.

Harper came up with the game on the line in the seventh inning and delivered a game-tying base hit to help the Phillies rally past the Los Angeles Dodgers, 7-6, in the rain at Citizens Bank Park.

Rhys Hoskins, just as important to the team’s chances as Harper, followed his teammate with a two-run, opposite-field single (an on 0-2 pitch) to give the Phillies the lead.

The hits by Harper and Hoskins both came off hard-throwing Dodgers’ reliever Joe Kelly and they helped the Phillies pull off a crucial split of the four-game series against baseball’s best club. The Phils lost the opener, 16-2, and came back to win two of the next three.

The Phillies finished the homestand against the Dodgers and the red-hot Washington Nationals with three wins and four losses, not enough to convince the front office to go for broke at the trade deadline later this month, but enough to keep the Phillies hanging around in the playoff chase as they head to Pittsburgh for a weekend series against the Pirates.

“Obviously, we've gotten hit in the mouth a couple of times throughout the course of the season, but we seem to bounce back,” Hoskins said. “The Dodgers beat us the first game pretty well, so to be able to come back after that and split with one of the best teams in the National League does a lot for the confidence of this club. Especially today, coming from behind.”

Aaron Nola, who has been a stud for a month, had an off day with his location. He allowed three of the four homers that the Dodgers hit and he left trailing after five innings.

The offense saved him.

The Phils rallied for four runs in the bottom of the seventh after reliever Caleb Ferguson hit a batter and walked a batter with no outs. Jean Segura had an RBI single before Harper tied the game against Kelly.

Harper moved to second — diving into the bag — on a bobble in the outfield. He came up muddy with a pumping fist and a “Let’s go!” shout to the dugout. The crowd of 38,043 loved it. Hoskins also showed some fire as he reached first base on his go-ahead base hit to right.

“After going through a long night (Wednesday) and coming out with a loss, it was good to see that kind of energy and that kind of emotion,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “Rhys putting the ball in play against Kelly down the right field line — it didn’t have to be a bullet, just put it in play down the line and he was clearly fired up at first base. There was some emotion shown. A lot of our guys showed a lot of emotion today after this win. We came out and were resilient, tough and energetic today.”

Harper had a good series with three two-hit games. He had three doubles and drove in seven runs. Over his last 22 games, he is hitting .316 (25 for 79) with six doubles, five homers and 19 RBIs.

“We’ve leaned on him and we’ve leaned all season long on him and we’re going to continue to lean on him as an emotional leader and the producer that he is on the bases, at the plate and on defense,” Kapler said of Harper.

Hoskins has 54 go-ahead RBIs since making his big-league debut August 10, 2017. That’s the most in baseball.

At 50-47, the Phillies need a lot to go right if they are going to make a run.

You know all about the starting pitching. You know all about the bullpen.

Getting Harper and Hoskins hot in the middle of the lineup — like they were Thursday — would be huge.

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Phillies add veteran depth in bullpen, infield with a flurry of signings

Phillies add veteran depth in bullpen, infield with a flurry of signings

Three weeks before the start of spring training, the Phillies were busy Wednesday finalizing minor-league contracts with three pitchers and a utility infielder.

The team announced the signings of veteran relievers Drew Storen, Bud Norris and Francisco Liriano, as well as veteran infielder Neil Walker.

Of the group, Liriano, 36, might have the best chance to impact the 2020 Phillies. The left-hander, a starter for the bulk of his major-league career, was used exclusively as a reliever with Pittsburgh last season. He pitched in 69 games and recorded an ERA of 3.47 over 70 innings. Liriano was particularly effective against lefty hitters, holding them to a .194 batting average (14 for 72.)

Storen, 32, and Norris, 34, are both right-handers with significant big-league time. Neither pitched in the majors last season because of health reasons. Storen was recovering from Tommy John surgery and Norris had a forearm injury. There are opportunities in the Phillies’ bullpen and both will be given a look in spring training.

Walker, 34, is an 11-year veteran who has spent much of his career as a regular second baseman, mostly with Pittsburgh. He has bounced around the diamond in recent seasons, particularly with the New York Yankees in 2018, where he played first base, second base, third base and both corner outfield spots. He played first, second and third with the Miami Marlins last season and hit .261 with eight homers and 38 RBIs in 337 at-bats.

Walker, a switch-hitter, will vie for a spot as a reserve with the Phillies. Rosters expand from 25 to 26 men this season and that will allow the Phillies to carry an extra player on their bench. There are plenty of candidates for that job. Earlier this winter, the Phillies signed veteran infielders Josh Harrison, Phil Gosselin and Ronald Torreyes to minor-league deals. The team is also bringing veteran outfielders Matt Szczur and Mikie Mahtook to big-league camp on minor-league deals. The competition for a spot as a reserve outfielder will also include Nick Williams and Nick Martini, both of whom are on the 40-man roster.

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Phillies agree to deal with Francisco Liriano

Phillies agree to deal with Francisco Liriano

After months of inactivity in the bullpen, the Phillies have added three relievers in two days. The latest signing is of left-hander Francisco Liriano. It's a minor-league deal in which Liriano will earn $1.5 million if he makes the team, with up to $1.25 million in incentives, according to Robert Murray.

Liriano is better than the pair of pitchers the Phillies agreed to minor-league deals with earlier this week: Drew Storen and Bud Norris. Those two didn't pitch at all in the majors in 2019.

Liriano, though, was effective in 2019. He had a 3.47 ERA in 69 appearances with the Pirates. Control has always been an issue dating back to his early days with the Twins, whether Liriano has been a starter or reliever. He has walked 4.9 batters per nine innings over the last three seasons.

Still, Liriano has the potential to be a solid left-handed weapon in the Phils' 'pen, and perhaps a spot starter in a pinch. Lefties were just 29 for 160 (.181) against Liriano the last two seasons.

If he makes the team, it would give the Phillies three left-handed relief options in Liriano, Adam Morgan and Jose Alvarez. Morgan can face hitters from both sides but Alvarez is a lefty specialist. Alvarez, who had a 3.36 ERA in 59 innings, was one of the Phillies' unsung players in 2019.

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