Phillies

Hustling Bryce Harper makes mom and dad — and the fans — happy with a big night

Hustling Bryce Harper makes mom and dad — and the fans — happy with a big night

Bryce Harper looked like a runaway freight train as he rounded first base in the fourth inning Wednesday night. He sprinted into second base with a dive, a cloud of dust, a safe call, a fist pump and a roar of appreciation from the Citizens Bank Park crowd.

Harper could have stopped at first base with a two-run single. But he saw daylight and, by now, you know he plays the game in the fast lane.

“That’s what the fans expect, that’s what I expect and I know my mom and dad are watching at home and that’s what they expect, too,” Harper said. “So you just have to play the game hard and play it right.”

Harper played the game hard, right and well in leading the Phillies to an 11-4 win over the St. Louis Cardinals (see observations). 

He had three hits, a single, double and homer on his way to a four-RBI night.

Three other Phillies, including Andrew McCutchen, homered in the game. McCutchen, the leadoff man, scored four of his team’s runs, one of them in the fourth inning when Harper busted it out of the box and turned what looked like a single into the 200th double of his career.

McCutchen said Harper’s hustle was inspiring.

“For sure,” he said. “It’s not something you see every day, especially from someone of his caliber. A lot of people would be fine with taking that single and a couple of RBIs and calling it a day, but he’s busting it out of the box, playing hard. That can hype a team up. It’s always great to see that. It’s motivating.”

Gabe Kapler sure liked it.

“That type of effort level is uncommon in a superstar of Bryce’s caliber,” Kapler said. “It’s not often you seen that combination of talent, grit, determination and all-out 100 percent hustle.”

Harper’s four RBIs helped make a winner of Aaron Nola, who is 6-0 with a 4.18 ERA in 12 starts. Nola delivered seven innings of four-hit, one-run ball.

The Phillies’ offense hits behind Nola — 60 runs when he has been in the game this season. Kapler said the team was confident and relaxed behind Nola and that led to production.

Speaking of relaxed, that is what Harper has tried to do at the plate the last two nights. He struck out three times in Milwaukee on Sunday. Since then, he has three doubles, a single, a homer and six RBIs in two games. He’s come alive at the plate because less is more. In short, he’s not swinging as hard.

“I had a conversation with (hitting coach) John Mallee during the game,” Kapler said. “I asked him what one thing he was seeing from Bryce. He said it was the lowest effort level we’ve seen from him all year. It’s something they’ve been working on together pretty diligently and it’s really paying dividends for Bryce right now.

“When your effort level is low, your muscles fire fast and you see the ball longer.”

Harper acknowledged reining in the effort on his swing, but he preferred not to go too deeply into it.

“I don’t want to get too much into it because I don’t want to think about it, to tell you the truth,” Harper said. “I was just trying to relax up there, get pitches in the zone and not swing at balls.

“I want to answer your question, but I don’t want to think about it, to tell you the truth. Just try to go up there and have good at-bats.”

The Phillies’ 12-hit attack left them a season-high 11 games over .500 with a chance to sweep the Cardinals on Thursday. Then it’s off to Los Angeles and three against the team with the best record in the National League. You know who has the second-best record, right?

“I don’t think we pay attention to where we’re at or what our record is,” McCutchen said. “We just try to show up and win.”



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This indefinite delay may be frustrating for these five Phillies

This indefinite delay may be frustrating for these five Phillies

Everyone is disappointed that the 2020 MLB season didn't start on time — owners, executives, managers and coaches, players and of course the fans who have been longing for baseball's return. There are so many intriguing storylines surrounding the Phillies. We were all so excited to watch this season play out.

The players themselves are all undoubtedly bummed. But this indefinite delay has to be especially frustrating for these five Phillies.

Rhys Hoskins

I can't imagine anyone was more anxious to get back to work in 2020 than Hoskins. The second half of his 2019 season was brutal. He hit .180 with just nine HR and 26 RBI in 71 games following the All-Star break. You could see that prolonged slump taking its toll on Hoskins. He wore the frustration outwardly on a nightly basis. For a guy who has experienced success at every stop of his baseball career, his struggles last season had to be confusing. What am I doing wrong? How can I get this fixed? Will I ever break out of this slump?

Hoskins spent a lot of time in the offseason adjusting his mental and physical approach at the plate. He admitted he was thinking too much last year. He worked with new hitting coach Joe Dillon, lowering his hands and opening his stance. He was eager to get back to being a force in the middle of the Phillies batting order, eager to prove that the second half of 2019 was a fluke. He wanted to get back to being one of the premiere sluggers in the National League.

But now Hoskins waits just like the rest of us to find out when (or if) he'll get that opportunity.

Jake Arrieta

This is the final year of the three-year, $75 million contract that Arrieta signed with the Phillies prior to the 2018 season. He'd be the first one to tell you that the Phillies haven't gotten their money's worth on that deal. Arrieta battled injuries and inconsistency in his first two seasons in Philadelphia. He pitched through a knee injury that required surgery in 2018, finishing that season with a 3.96 ERA in 31 starts. His 2019 season was cut short due to surgery in August to clean out a bone spur in his right elbow. He posted a 4.64 ERA in 24 starts before he was shut down.

The 34-year old Arrieta has hardly resembled the guy who won a World Series and Cy Young Award with the Cubs. But this spring he said he's 100 percent healthy and ready to make the type of impact the Phillies bargained for when they signed him to that big contract. Arrieta looked sharp in spring training. He was going to slot into the third spot in the rotation behind Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler. A big year from Arrieta would do wonders for the Phillies' playoff chances. It would also put him in a great position as he ventures back into free agency following the 2020 season.

Bryce Harper

A lot of signs pointed to Harper having a monster 2020 season. He had a full offseason and spring training to focus solely on baseball as opposed to a year ago when he didn't know which team he'd be playing for or where his family would be living until the end of February. He was settled in playing with his new team and living in his new city. And perhaps maybe most telling, he was tearing the cover off the ball in spring training. Harper hit .500 with three doubles, three HR and 11 RBI in eight exhibition games. He was locked and loaded for the regular season.

But now Harper's potential MVP caliber season has been put on hold. If there is a 2020 season, it almost certainly won't be 162 games. Which means we won't find out what numbers he was capable of putting up in his second season with the Phillies. At 27 years old, Harper still has plenty of his prime years ahead of him. But this one could have been special. Hopefully it still can be.

Zach Eflin

Of all the Phillies starting pitchers, Eflin may be best positioned to make 'the leap' in 2020. The righthander is coming off an uneven 2019 season, posting a 10-13 record with a 4.13 ERA. It was a year full of ups (a pair of complete games) and downs (a July demotion to the bullpen). Eflin's skill set didn't mesh with how former pitching coach Chris Young wanted pitchers to attack hitters. Young stressed the importance of throwing fastballs up in the zone. Eflin is most effective when he relies on his sinker.

New pitching coach Bryan Price wants Eflin and the rest of the Phillies starters to pitch to their strengths. Price preaches efficiency, he wants Eflin to use his sinker early in the count to get ground ball outs. This appears to be a perfect union of coach and player. Eflin turns 26 on Wednesday, he enters his fifth big league season with 74 career starts under his belt. A lot of evidence suggests he may be poised for a career year.

Scott Kingery

After bouncing all over the diamond during his first two seasons with the Phillies, it looks like Kingery will finally get the chance to settle in at his natural position of second base this year. He played mostly shortstop, center field and third base in his first two major league seasons with cameos at second base, left field and right field. He's been valuable in that super utility role but he's mentioned his desire to play second base regularly. With Didi Gregorius at shortstop and Jean Segura playing third base during spring training, Kingery appears to be penciled in as the starter at second base.

Kingery's offensive numbers improved significantly from 2018 to 2019. He hit .258 last season with 34 doubles and 19 home runs, up from .226 with 23 doubles and eight HR in 2018. Being more comfortable at his natural position in the field should only enhance his production at the plate. Kingery bulked up in the offseason in hopes of taking his game to the next level. Time will tell if he gets the chance to do so.

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How Jean Segura's heroics vs. Mets in 2019 further debate on his future

How Jean Segura's heroics vs. Mets in 2019 further debate on his future

There’s few things Phillies fans enjoy more than a comeback, walk-off win against the Mets. So make sure to give yourself a smile by watching just that on NBC Sports Philadelphia today. 

Specifically, we’re bringing you a 5-4 win from June of last season that ended with a Jay Bruce RBI double in the bottom of the 10th. But it was the play of Jean Segura that night that got the Phillies into a position to win it. The then-Phillies shortstop hit a solo home run off future and past teammate Jason Vargas (what a Phillies career he had) in the bottom of the 6th to cut the deficit to 4-1. In the 7th, Segura connected off Seth Lugo for a game-tying 2-run single.

That game proved to be a positive moment in a below-average season for the veteran infielder. In his 1st campaign with the Phillies, the walk and strikeout averse Segura hit .280. That’s 24 points lower than he batted with the Mariners the year before. His home runs only improved from 10 to 12, despite moving from cavernous T-Mobile Park to the much more long-ball conducive Citizens Bank Park.
    
All signs point to Segura moving from shortstop to 2nd base when regular season baseball takes place with Didi Gregorius signed in the offseason to play shortstop. While the returns on the infield realignment remain to be seen, Segura’s impact needs to be most felt at the plate and in the Phillies lineup.
    
So was last season the beginning of a decline for the recently-turned 30-year old Segura? Or just a slight dip for a player that hit .300 or better in each of the previous three seasons? 
    
A reason for optimism is Segura’s assertion that he entered spring training in February in much better shape than the previous season. That said, we don’t definitively know how this current hiatus will impact that physical conditioning. Pessimists will point out that history (not including the late 80s to the early 2000s) suggests players don’t get better as they enter their 30s.
    
Ultimately, it will add to the degree of difficulty for the Phillies to get where they want to go this season if Segura is not a .300 hitter that sets the table for the heart of the lineup.

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