Phillies

Slumping Bryce Harper hears boos as Phillies end April with 4 hits and a loss

Slumping Bryce Harper hears boos as Phillies end April with 4 hits and a loss

Bryce Harper almost made it through the month of April without getting booed.

Almost.

Harper heard the salty sounds of disappointment as he walked back to the dugout after striking out in the bottom of the eighth inning in the Phillies' 3-1 loss to the Detroit Tigers at Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday night.

The strikeout, Harper's second of the night, capped a tough inning for the Phillies' $330-million man. He dropped a ball in right field in the top half of the frame.

Harper did not blame the customers for exercising their lungs and the right to show their disappointment.

"I'd do the same thing," he said. "It's not fun to lose, not fun to watch when you're playing that way. (I was) 0 for 4 with two punchies. I'm probably thinking the same thing walking back to the dugout."

Harper has started every one of the Phillies' games this season. He ended April hitting .240 with six homers, 20 RBIs and a .878 OPS.

But over the last two weeks, Harper has struggled. Remove his five-hit game in Denver on April 19 and he's 4 for his last 39 with 16 strikeouts since April 17. Even with that five-hit game, he's batting just .196 during that span.

"I feel fine," Harper said. "Just keep missing pitches. That's about it. Swing feels good, hands feel good. Just swinging at pitches out of the zone. Pretty much the same thing. Just trying to swing at a pitch over the plate and not miss it. If I can cut down on swinging on pitches out of the zone, get on base for the guys behind me, then I'll be successful.

Could he be trying too hard?

"Nah, I mean, my work's the same every day," he said. "I feel good in the cage, feel good going about it each day. But like I said, can't miss pitches over the plate. I'm getting some pitches to hit over the plate. Got to be better."

It's worth wondering if manager Gabe Kapler would give Harper his first rest of the season Wednesday night. That could conceivably give him a two-day reset because Thursday is an off day. However, the Phillies already have two outfielders on the injured list so it might be best to just let Harper hit his way out of this.

"This wasn't Bryce's best game, but I believe in Bryce with every ounce of my being," Kapler said. "This is a guy that's going to win a lot of baseball games for us, already has won baseball games for us."

What is Kapler seeing from Harper that past couple of weeks?

"I don't think that baseball is meant to be evaluated in that short a period of time," he said. "There's going to be ups, there's going to be downs for even the best hitters in baseball. This is just a stretch that Bryce is struggling through."

More Phillies than just Harper are struggling at the plate. The Phils had just four hits Tuesday night — and just one after the second inning (see observations). They have been held to five or fewer hits in seven of their last 13 games. They are hitting just .197 over their last nine games.

Vince Velasquez had trouble keeping his pitching count down in this one and took the loss after allowing three runs in an unusual third inning that saw the Phillies' defense fail to catch a ball in shallow right field because of a shift and a hazy twilight sky, and a play that could have been overturned if they had asked for a challenge before the allotted 30 seconds expired.

"We did everything we could possibly do to get the angle (on the replay)," Kapler said. "The moment I heard it was close, we decided to challenge. It's my understanding that the umpire would give you a clear indication when you're running out of time. We didn't get that clear indication. I turned around and I had my hand up to my ears to signal a challenge and I didn't get it off on time."

The play was not the reason the Phillies lost.

"We lost because after the first couple of innings we weren't able to score a run," Kapler said.

Despite the loss and the recent lack of offense, the Phillies head into the month of May at 16-13, first place in the NL East by a game.

Phillies trade rumors: Francisco Lindor, Starling Marte, Whit Merrifield and more

Phillies trade rumors: Francisco Lindor, Starling Marte, Whit Merrifield and more

With so many boxes to check this offseason, the Phillies may have to get creative and make a trade. 

A year ago, GM Matt Klentak orchestrated a deal to acquire Jean Segura from the Mariners for Carlos Santana and J.P. Crawford. Nobody saw that move coming from a Phillies front office that moves quietly.

Why might a trade again be necessary for the Phils? There is very little of appeal in the center field market, one of the Phillies' positions of need. The top five free-agent centerfielders are Jarrod Dyson, Brett Gardner, Billy Hamilton, Cameron Maybin and Juan Lagares. Yuck. Maybe a team can convince itself Marcell Ozuna can play center but he hasn't in two years.

One potential trade target to keep in the back of your mind? Pirates centerfielder Starling Marte. The Pirates are rebuilding, will have a new GM and manager in 2020, and could get value for Marte, who has a pair of club options left on his contract in 2020 and 2021 at $24 million total. From a Phillies standpoint, it would be an offensive and defensive upgrade that likely would not cost a tippy-top prospect.

The relief market is also lackluster. Lefty Will Smith is the best name in that market. Dellin Betances is a bounce-back project after a year lost to injury. Drew Pomeranz will attract interest after finding success as a reliever in 2019. Sergio Romo is still getting outs.

But if the Phillies want an upper-tier reliever, the trade market should offer more than free agency. Back-end relievers like Raisel Iglesias and Ken Giles could be had.

The Phillies are not the only team that could make a score in a trade this winter. The Padres and White Sox, who both missed the playoffs the entire decade from 2010-19, stick out as teams ripe for deals. They have promising young cores and the need for a(nother) star. In San Diego's case, it will look to put another piece around Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis Jr. and Chris Paddack. In Chicago's case, the goal is to build around Eloy Jimenez, Yoan Moncada and Dylan Cease, though one or more them may have to be sacrificed to land that big fish.

Marte, mentioned above, isn't the only intriguing potential trade candidate this winter. 

The Indians could move one or both of shortstop Francisco Lindor and former Cy Young-winner Corey Kluber

The Mookie Betts drama persists in Boston. 

What will the Cubs do with Kris Bryant?

Is this the year the Royals deal Whit Merrifield

How about pitchers like Matthew Boyd and Robbie Ray, who were not traded at the deadline?

Surely, some of these conversations are taking place now in Arizona at the GM Meetings.

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At the Yard podcast: Predicting where Top 12 MLB free agents will sign

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At the Yard podcast: Predicting where Top 12 MLB free agents will sign

Ricky Bottalico and Corey Seidman predict where the top 12 MLB free agents will land in Monday's At the Yard podcast.

• Anthony Rendon

• Gerrit Cole

• Stephen Strasburg

• Zack Wheeler

• Madison Bumgarner

• Josh Donaldson

• Mike Moustakas

• Rick Porcello

• Cole Hamels

• Hyun-Jin Ryu

• Nick Castellanos

• Didi Gregorius

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