Phillies

Bryce Harper's lefty-mashing gives opposing managers even more to think about late in games

Bryce Harper's lefty-mashing gives opposing managers even more to think about late in games

With a runner or two in scoring position midway through a close game and Bryce Harper due up, managers opposing the Phillies will face the season-long decision whether to go after Harper or pitch around him with Rhys Hoskins lurking. 

On opening day, an intentional walk of Harper led to a Hoskins grand slam. Saturday night in Colorado, Harper continued to complicate that decision for opposing managers by hitting a three-run home run off a lefty reliever.

It is a situation that lacks a correct answer. Do you go lefty-lefty vs. Harper? Do you walk him and go righty-righty vs. Hoskins? Do you base it on who has looked better that night or the few preceding games?

Harper's homer came against 11th-year lefty specialist Mike Dunn, a reliever he's seen more than any other throughout his eight-year major-league career. In 23 plate appearances against lefties this season, Harper has gone 7 for 18 (.389) with two doubles, two homers, four walks and four strikeouts. He's reached base 12 times — more than half of his plate appearances vs. lefties.

This isn't small sample size theater, either. Over the last five seasons, the only left-handed hitter in the majors with a higher OPS against lefties than Harper is Joey Votto. Since 2015, Harper's hit .277/.383/.489 against lefties — a higher batting average than fellow lefties Corey Seager and Robinson Cano, a higher OBP than Freddie Freeman, a better slugging percentage than Christian Yelich.

The pitch Harper hit out last night against Dunn was not a good one. It was an 86 mph, middle-in slider that didn't move much. It was a mistake. But you still have to barrel up that mistake. It could have easily been pulled foul or skied high in the air.

Harper doesn't look great in every at-bat against a lefty. He occasionally pulls off, leaving himself in a bad position to make contact. One of the impressive parts of his game Saturday night was that he rolled over to the right side of the infield twice in his first three at-bats by trying to pull pitches too far outside, before hitting that two-strike homer off Dunn.

Every time Harper does damage against a left-hander, it will create one more wrinkle for the opposing manager to consider. The situation last night was the seventh inning, two outs, runners on second and third with the Phillies up 4-3. There could have been merit to pitching around Harper to get to Hoskins.

Twenty games in, we've seen the Phillies make the other team pay no matter which option they choose.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Phillies

Joe Girardi doesn't see penalty for Astros players as a deterrent

Joe Girardi doesn't see penalty for Astros players as a deterrent

The calls for Astros players to get suspended have gotten louder and louder as players have descended upon Florida and Arizona for spring training this past week. From Cody Bellinger to Mike Trout to Trevor Bauer to Nick Markakis and everywhere in between, players have made clear how angry they are about Houston's cheating scandal. 

It's going to take a long time for Astros players to gain back the respect of their peers.

It's not some easy fix, though. Astros players were granted immunity from discipline in order for their cooperation in MLB's investigation. MLB cannot, after the fact, revoke that immunity and decide to suspend players knowing what it now knows. That would never fly, and it shouldn't. Whether immunity should have been granted in the first place is the big question, but that point has passed.

Joe Girardi was asked on ESPN's Golic and Wingo Show Wednesday whether he thought MLB's punishment was sufficient.

The Phillies' first-year skipper doesn't think the current punishment serves as much of a deterrent.

"There are some people that lost their jobs that really were the people that had to pay for it, but there were a lot more people involved," Girardi said. "The financial gain for the players is substantial if they have big seasons because of this, so if there's no punishment for them, I'm not sure that it stops. I'm really not sure. Because the financial gain, similar to the steroid era, is very similar. If you know it's coming and you have a big year and you're a free agent, there's a lot (of money) to be made there and players want to take care of their families.

"I'm not exactly sure what the right answer is, but I don't know how much of a deterrent it is for players right now. There's not a huge deterrent for the players and I think there has to be to make sure that it stops."

People made fun of commissioner Rob Manfred for saying this but it should be acknowledged that the public ridicule the Astros are feeling right now will actually serve as some sort of deterrent. That doesn't mean MLB made the right call, that their decision-making process has been sound or that Manfred has done himself any favors publicly. But the disrespect factor around the league and around the country is real. Guys like Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, George Springer, even a Justin Verlander — will they ever again command the respect they did before this? This is a permanent stain.

MLB recognized how difficult an investigation would have been without cooperation from key figures and went the route of immunity. It's a decision that will be questioned for years.

"If you're not in the clubhouse and you don't admit yourself that you did it, how do you take the word from another player that he was doing it? That's the hard part," Girardi said. "Like, if you get caught with something on your body, that to me definitely should be a suspension and a huge fine. But to say that someone was using it, it's his word against his word, that's pretty tough to penalize a player."

Subscribe and rate Phillies Talk:
Apple Podcasts / Google Play / Spotify / Stitcher / Art19 / YouTube

More on the Phillies

A small step in Phillies camp for pitching prospect Spencer Howard

A small step in Phillies camp for pitching prospect Spencer Howard

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Spencer Howard, the Phillies' top pitching prospect, returned to a bullpen mound Wednesday and threw 27 pitches.

Ordinarily, a bullpen session in spring training is not news, but Howard had temporarily stopped his bullpen work after sustaining a minor knee injury — manager Joe Girardi called it a "tweak" — 10 days earlier.

Howard threw all of his pitches during the bullpen session as a gaggle of fans watched at Carpenter Complex.

"I only saw two pitches," said Girardi, who was busy bouncing around four fields. "But he felt great. That's the important thing."

Girardi said there was no timetable for when Howard would pitch in a Grapefruit League game. The Phillies are on record as saying they will take things slowly with Howard in the early part of the season. The 23-year-old right-hander is on an innings/workload limit this season and the Phillies would like to get a good chunk of those innings in the big leagues.

"Spencer has an innings limit so we have to think about this because we believe at some point he's going to play a role for us," Girardi said earlier in camp. "We can't go wear him out by June so we have to think about that. We're not going to waste a lot of innings in spring training."

It's possible that the Phillies could hold Howard back in extended spring training in the month of April so they can maximize his innings later in the season.

Subscribe and rate Phillies Talk:
Apple Podcasts / Google Play / Spotify / Stitcher / Art19

More on the Phillies