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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Even Bryce Harper’s wife wonders if the Phillies did enough to improve

Even Bryce Harper’s wife wonders if the Phillies did enough to improve

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Even Bryce Harper’s wife wonders if the Phillies did enough to improve this winter.

Harper reported to Phillies spring training Sunday with much less fanfare than he did a year ago. There was no top-of-the-dugout, televised news conference heralding his 13-year, $330-million contract. Instead, he stepped into the hallway outside the clubhouse and took questions from reporters on subjects ranging from his connection with Phillies fans to his personal goals for the coming season. He also weighed in on his old team, the Washington Nationals, winning the World Series, the cheating Houston Astros and his homie, the very available Kris Bryant.

The topic inquiring minds most wanted to discuss was the off-season work done by Phillies management.

A year ago, as he vetted potential free-agent destinations, Harper sought assurances from Phillies managing partner John Middleton that the club would continually bring in the talent needed to win a championship.

This winter, the Phillies made two significant free-agent additions in pitcher Zack Wheeler and shortstop Didi Gregorius. Both were on board by mid-December and the Phillies, despite holes in the pitching staff, made only minor roster tweaks the rest of the off-season.

So, the natural question for Harper as he reported to his second Phillies camp Sunday morning was: Did the team do enough this off-season to win?

“My wife actually asked me that question the other night,” Harper said. “She’s super into it and everything like that.

“You know,” he added. “I believe we did.”

Harper mentioned the addition of Wheeler and the potential upside of having a healthy Jake Arrieta in the rotation and a healthy Seranthony Dominguez in the bullpen. He mentioned the possibility of prospects Spencer Howard, Alec Bohm and Damon Jones having an impact in the rotation – clearly, Harper has done his homework – and of non-roster relievers Drew Storen and Bud Norris helping. He mentioned how good Aaron Nola and Hector Neris have been.

“We’re going to score runs, we were able to do that last year, and if our bullpen can hold and our starters can, as well, I think we’ll be OK,” Harper said.

The Phillies could have done more this winter had they been willing to exceed the luxury-tax threshold of $208 million in payroll. They still might end up over the tax later this season, especially if they are in contention, but for now are in a wait-and-see mode.

One player who would surely help the Phillies now is Bryant, the slugging third baseman from the Chicago Cubs and Harper’s longtime pal from their days growing up together in Las Vegas. Bryant, who will be a free agent after the 2021 season, is on the trading block. Both he and Harper are represented by agent Scott Boras.

Bryant, who will make $18.6 million this season, might be a player that the Phillies would be willing to go over the tax line for, but the Phils and Cubs haven’t been able to line up as trade partners. The Cubs are looking for young pitching and the Phillies, with one of the lowest-rated farm systems in baseball, don’t have much beyond Howard, who is pretty much untouchable.

A year ago, Harper banged the drum for a possible Phillies-Mike Trout union. Alas, however, Trout signed a contract extension with the Angels that will prevent him from becoming a free agent.

Given the opportunity to bang the drum for the Phillies to go get Bryant, Harper exercised restraint and some long-term vision.

“You have to have certain guys on your team that make less money to also have guys that make more money, as well,” Harper said. “Kris, of course, you want an All-Star-caliber player, but we have (third base prospect) Bohm. We have a big-time third baseman we were able to get in the draft.

"Of course, any time you're able to add an All-Star player you're going to want to add an All-Star player. But you have to be able to know that you developed a player in the minor leagues that can also help you at third base, and Bohm could be that guy for us. He could come up and be one of the best third basemen in the second half or whatever it is.

"As a team, you have to have guys like that, that are only making the minimum so you can go and spend at the deadline. If the Cubs aren't where they are, you never know at the half what they're going to be doing. He could be cheaper at [that] point. But I can't give up Spencer Howard and Bohm, and possibly give up our whole future, for a year and a half of KB if we don't sign him to an extension. And I know there's a guy in there that we need to sign to an extension.”

That guy is catcher J.T. Realmuto. The Phillies will look to sign him to a contract extension in the coming weeks so he does not become a free agent after the season. Realmuto could look to top Joe Mauer’s annual salary of $23 million, a record for a catcher.

“I think having a guy like J.T. for the next six years would help us,” Harper said.

As for other matters that Harper touched on:

Personal goals

“Just hitting for average. What did I hit, .260 last year? I think get my average back up and get my on-base back up, get to 100 walks. It really bugged me last year when I was at 99 and I didn’t get it. I really pride myself on my on-base and slugging percentage and things like that, so individually at the plate I just want to get better and doing everything I can to help this team win. I want to keep hitting with guys on base because that’s always fun.”

The Nationals winning the World Series

“I watched through the whole Series and I never have before. I’m so happy for those guys over there. I played there for eight years and enjoyed my time with the players, but I’m happy to turn the page and be here in Philly.”

On the cheating Astros

“It’s very tough to see that. But, I think, for me, it’s more the guys that come up for the first time and they’re at the back end of the bullpen and they know it and they get hit or shelled and they’re never coming to the big leagues again because a team had their signs. It’s those guys that I feel bad for.”

On his first year with Philadelphia fans

“It’s funny, in the offseason, all my buddies were like, ‘How’d you like Philly?’ and I was like, ‘Dude, I loved it. Like, it was unbelievable.’ So I think people might look at me and go, ‘Yeah, right, you’re crazy.’ But no, I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed the fans. I enjoyed the people. That blue-collar feel, that blue-collar mentality. They want you to work hard, they hold you accountable and that made me a better player. I can’t thank the fans enough for last year, for really welcoming me and my family. I’m really looking forward to what we have this year and what we can do.”

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Phillies trade left-handed pitcher Tyler Gilbert to Dodgers for outfielder Kyle Garlick

Phillies trade left-handed pitcher Tyler Gilbert to Dodgers for outfielder Kyle Garlick

Trade! OK, maybe not the kind Phillies fans had been waiting on. The Phils acquired corner outfielder Kyle Garlick from the Dodgers on Saturday for left-handed reliever Tyler Gilbert.

Garlick, 28, was designated for assignment by the Dodgers last week. The Phillies made room for him on the 40-man roster by DFA’ing Nick Martini. Martini had been picked up off waivers from Cincy last month.

Garlick went 12 for 48 with four doubles and three homers for the Dodgers in 2019, his lone season in the bigs. He’s a right-handed hitter with power who went deep 82 times while climbing from Single A to Triple A in a crowded Dodgers system from 2016-19.

With the Phillies, Garlick will vie for a spot on the bench. He has a ton of competition. Jay Bruce, Nick Williams and Roman Quinn are on the 40-man roster, and non-roster invitees Logan Forsythe, Josh Harrison, Phil Gosselin, Mikie Mahtook, Matt Szczur, Neil Walker and Ronald Torreyes are also battling for bench jobs. That's 11 players for, at most, four spots, considering the other bench player would be the backup catcher.

Garlick still has two minor league options left, which could provide useful flexibility to the Phillies if they choose to shuttle him back and forth between Triple A and the majors.

Gilbert, the lefty headed to the Dodgers, did not pitch in the majors for the Phillies. He was in camp as a non-roster invitee. He had a 2.83 ERA in 47⅔ innings at Triple A Lehigh Valley last season but found himself behind many other lefty bullpen candidates here.

The Phillies have Adam Morgan, Jose Alvarez, Francisco Liriano, Ranger Suarez, Cole Irvin, Austin Davis and prospects Cristopher Sanchez, Zach Warren, Damon Jones, Kyle Dohy and JoJo Romero in camp. Lots of options to choose from.

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