Hitless but healthy, Bryce Harper returns to Phillies' lineup

Hitless but healthy, Bryce Harper returns to Phillies' lineup

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Bryce Harper made a quick return to the Phillies’ lineup and picked up four plate appearances in a Grapefruit League game against the New York Yankees on Sunday afternoon.

In his first action since leaving Friday’s game after taking a fastball off the right ankle, Harper struck out twice, grounded out to shortstop and walked in the 7-3 loss to the Yankees. The St. Paddy's Day crowd was a festive 11,340 — a Spectrum Field record. Harper is hitless with four walks in his 14 plate appearances with the Phils, but results don’t matter for another 11 days.

All that matters at this point is that Harper is healthy. The sound of Toronto right-hander Trent Thornton’s 96-mph fastball smacking against Harper’s ankle left Phillies officials, fans, and Harper himself fearing significant injury. But X-rays were negative and Harper ended up missing just Saturday’s game. He was cleared to serve as Sunday’s designated hitter after participating in some morning running drills under the watchful eye of the Phillies’ athletic training staff.

“It felt good,” Harper said after the game. “It’s shocking. I can’t believe I came in yesterday and had not really any swelling or bruising. I was glad I was able to get out there and it felt pretty normal.”

With his health scare out of the way, Harper is looking to build timing at the plate. He saw a couple of quality major-league pitchers in James Paxton and Delin Betances and 100-mph stuff from young reliever Anderson Severino.

“It was good to get out there against another lefty in Paxton and Betances, as well, and that last guy,” Harper said. “I saw velocity like I wanted to. I saw some off-speed, as well. Nothing to show for it, really, but it’s getting better every day.

“The goal is definitely to get a couple knocks. I don’t want to leave spring without a hit but if that happens then March 28, here we come. Timing is definitely a little behind right now. A little late on some of the pitches, especially against Paxton today. Fouled some stuff straight back. Just trying to get that the best I can.”

Manager Gabe Kapler is not looking for results at this stage for Harper.

“Spring training is for exactly this,” Kapler said. “It’s seeing pitches, left-handed relievers, powerful starters like Paxton, guys like Betances. It’s a good measuring stick just to see where you are from a timing and rhythm perspective. Obviously, we don’t have any judgment on results at this point, but it’s certainly good to see Bryce take down those reps.

“He’s right where he needs to be. I think he’s in the ideal spot. This is practice. These are reps. They’re work. He’s seeing pitches, working some deeper counts.”

The Phillies will play their next two games, Monday and Tuesday, on the East Coast of Florida against the St. Louis Cardinals and Houston Astros, respectively. Harper, and several other veterans, will not make the cross-state trip. Harper will serve as the DH in a minor-league game at Carpenter Complex at 1 p.m. on Monday.

On Tuesday, Harper will work on his “hitter’s eyes” and stand in during several pitchers’ bullpen sessions. He will also participate in defensive workouts in anticipation of a planned return to right field in Wednesday’s big-league game against the Detroit Tigers in Clearwater. After that, the Phillies will play five more Grapefruit League games before opening day.

“I don’t know if we’re going to have to play him every single day but we want to get him as many reps are as comfortable for him,” Kapler said. “We also don’t feel like there’s a big rush or a time crunch. We feel like he’s going to have his timing and rhythm down for opening day and that’s what’s most important. We don’t have to speed things up or force things.”

Kapler was assured of Harper’s good health when he saw the slugger run to first base on a ground out in the fourth inning Sunday.

“Watching (Andrew) McCutchen, (Jean) Segura, Harper and (Rhys) Hoskins run down the line — all of those guys busted it out the box,” Kapler said. “It’s not often that you see the All-Star caliber players on a team, former MVPs and MVP candidates, setting the tone by running the bases when it doesn’t matter and I was inspired by that.”

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Phillies' series loss to Rockies gnaws at Gabe Kapler

Phillies' series loss to Rockies gnaws at Gabe Kapler

DENVER — The Phillies’ offense, pretty much nonexistent for much of the day, began to stir with two outs in the ninth inning. One hit. A second hit and a run. A third hit. Suddenly it’s a three-run game and there are runners on second and third.

In the on-deck circle, Bryce Harper motioned to hitting coach John Mallee and asked to look at a sheet of paper bearing some intel on Colorado reliever Wade Davis.

All the Phillies needed was for Cesar Hernandez to reach base for Harper to get a chance with the bases loaded in Coors Field, the place where anything can and often does happen. You could almost hear Harper saying, “Get me to the plate, boys,” as Ryan Howard did one long ago October in the same ballpark.

Harper never made it out of the on-deck circle. Davis retired Hernandez and the Phillies trudged back to the clubhouse with a 4-1 loss (see observations), their third in four days in the series and seventh in their last eight games at Coors Field, dating to September of last season.

“I think we can play better than we did in this series,” manager Gabe Kapler said.

The Phils pretty much gave away Friday night’s 12-inning game by going 1 for 16 with runners in scoring position and leaving 19 men on base.

And, on Sunday, they had just two hits over the first 8 2/3 innings and Hernandez committed a costly base-running blunder in the fourth inning when the Rockies were leading just 1-0.

“It was a big play,” Kapler said. “It’s a play that can’t happen.”

The Phils were looking at having runners on first and second with one out against Jon Gray after the Rockies muffed a force out at second. The ball got away from second baseman Garrett Hampson as Hernandez slid into second. Umpire Joe West flashed the safe sign. However, Hernandez did not see the loose ball (which was in front of him) nor did he see West’s signal. He started walking back to the dugout and eventually was tagged for the second out. It cost the Phils a run, and maybe more, because Maikel Franco followed with a double.

“It’s ultimately my fault,” Hernandez said. “I know better. I should have stayed on the base until I was 100 percent sure if I was out or safe. I just assumed I was out. It's a learning experience for me. Hopefully it won't happen again.”

Both Hernandez and Kapler said they wished West had voiced his call as well as signaled it.

“That always helps,” Hernandez said. “But, again, it’s not his fault. It’s mine.”

Said Kapler: “Joe did not say anything verbally. He held his hands out (safe sign). You always like, when you can get it, a demonstrative call one way or the other; I’m definitely not calling out Joe for anything in this particular case. I think this is something that Cesar has to be responsible for. If Cesar was standing right next to me, he’d tell you stay on the base until you’re absolutely certain what the call is.”

Hernandez has recently started to heat up after a slow start. However, he went hitless in five at-bats Sunday and did not look good in one of his two strikeouts. He was about to be pushed for work before Scott Kingery suffered a hamstring strain in this series and went on the disabled list.

About the only bright spot Sunday was starting pitcher Jerad Eickhoff, who allowed four runs in six innings, a solid performance in Coors Field and against a team that boasts the beast of Charlie Blackmon. He had 10 hits, including two triples and two homers, in the four games to raise his average from .219 to .286 and his OPS from .567 to .802.

The Phillies jetted to New York after the game. They play the Mets in Citi Field the next three nights.

Kapler wasn’t planning on kicking back with a scotch on the flight.

“We’ve got a lot to think about on this plane ride and we’re going to go through everything and be prepared to come out and beat the Mets,” he said.

He was asked to expound on what needed to be thought about.

“I think it’s more postmortem from this series, some of the things we could have done differently,” he said. “Take some time. I’d love to be able to tell you exactly what those things are, but that’s why you get on the plane and think about them.”

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Rockies 4, Phillies 1: Phillies' offense doesn't show up until it's too late in series finale

Rockies 4, Phillies 1: Phillies' offense doesn't show up until it's too late in series finale


DENVER — The Phillies capped an unpleasant visit to Coors Field with a 4-1 loss on Sunday afternoon.

The offense produced just five hits and three of them came with two outs in the ninth as the Phils rallied for their only run. Colorado's Wade Davis retired Cesar Hernandez with two men on base to end the game.

The Phils lost three of four in the series and head to New York at 12-9.

The Phils are 5-13 against the Rockies since the start of the 2017 season. They have lost seven of the eight games that they’ve played at Coors Field since last September and been outscored 58-21.

The keys

• Two hits through 8 2/3 innings in Coors Field. That won't do it.

• Colorado starter Jon Gray kept the Phillies' hitters off-balance with a fastball that reached 97 mph and a slider/curveball mix that produced 13 swings and misses. Gray allowed just one hit over six shutout innings. He walked four and struck out five.

• With the Phillies down 1-0 in the fourth inning, Hernandez made a base-running blunder that ultimately cost his team a run. Hernandez had reached second in a muffed force play but did not notice that the ball had come loose and walked off the field toward the dugout and was tagged out.

Eickhoff’s day

Jerad Eickhoff had a solid outing in his first start of the season. He gave up just one run through five innings then paid for a couple of no-out walks en route to giving up three runs in the sixth. 

Like Aaron Nola the night before, Eickhoff got some big outs with runners on base. He did not get enough run support to pitch over the sixth inning. After the two walks, he gave up a single and a two-run double as Colorado built its lead to 4-0 in that frame. In all, Eickhoff allowed seven hits and four walks over six innings. He struck out eight.

Missing pop

Cleanup man Rhys Hoskins had three hits on Friday night and three more on Saturday before a hitless day in the series finale. He has gone seven games without an extra-base hit.

Phillie killer

Colorado’s Charlie Blackmon entered the four-game series hitting .219 with a .567 OPS. He ended the series hitting .286 with a .802 OPS. He had 10 hits, including two doubles and two triples, in 18 at-bats.

For his career, Blackmon is 56 for 161 (.348) with 10 homers and 23 RBIs against the Phils.

Health check

After an MRI, Phillies officials have determined that Scott Kingery’s hamstring strain is mild. There is still no timetable for his return. He suffered the injury Friday night.

Up next

The Phils visit Citi Field for the first time in the new season for a three-game series against the Mets (11-10) beginning on Monday night. Jake Arrieta looks to continue his strong start in the opener against Steven Matz. The Phils hung eight runs on Matz in the first inning of a game in Philadelphia last week. Zach Eflin pitches Tuesday night against Zack Wheeler and Vince Velasquez on Wednesday night against Jason Vargas.

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