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 infielder Scott Kingery talks about the hell that is coronavirus

Phillies infielder Scott Kingery talks about the hell that is coronavirus

If you don’t believe this coronavirus thing is real, listen to what Scott Kingery says and you might change your mind.

“It started on a Thursday (June 11) when I came down with a headache,” the Phillies second baseman told NBC Sports Philadelphia from his home in Phoenix on Tuesday. “I tried to play it off but it didn’t go away.

“Saturday around 10 a.m., I got chills so bad I couldn’t move without my whole body shaking."

“That night, my fever spiked so high that I sweated through my sheets. It left an imprint of my body."

“My fever broke Sunday morning and I actually felt a little better."

“But then three or four days later, I lost my sense of taste and smell for a few days. That was really annoying." 

“For a week, I was so tired. Low energy. Fatigue. Then I experienced shortness of breath for a week. I felt like I laid on the couch for three weeks without moving. I was tired just going up the stairs.”

Kingery, 26, wants people to know a few things:

One, he’s healthy now, completely symptom-free.

Two, he wants to be in Philadelphia, preparing for a season with his Phillies teammates, but can’t because his test results were initially wrong and then were delayed by the Fourth of July holiday.

The third thing Kingery wants everyone from his teammates to fans to know is that this virus is real.

“It really does spring on you fast,” he said. “Even if you don’t think you’re in a position to be exposed. It comes on very fast. It can creep up on you and get you pretty bad like it did with me."

“I know five or six people who had it and every single person was affected differently. Some had a sore throat, really bad. I never had a sore throat. Some were asymptomatic the whole way. I was not.”

Kingery returned to the Phoenix area after spring training shut down in March. He began working out with a small group of players, all of whom live in the same area. One guy in the group tested positive.

After learning of his buddy’s positive test, Kingery went to an urgent care facility on a Monday and got tested. He went home (he has two roommates) and quarantined. He waited for the results of his test.

Tuesday. Wednesday. Thursday. Friday. Saturday.

For whatever reason, maybe it was that the virus was spiking in Phoenix and facilities were overwhelmed, the results never came.

But Kingery didn’t need them.

He knew he had it. 

After sweating out a raging fever on that Saturday night, five days after being tested, Kingery phoned the urgent care facility. They said they had his test results and they were ... negative.
 
“There was no way that was possible,” he said. “I had every symptom."

Kingery called Phillies athletic trainer Paul Buchheit who rush-shipped a testing kit to Kingery. 

This one came back positive for COVID-19.

Kingery quarantined and went through protocols. His testing is now being handled by MLB.

“I’ve passed one test,” he said. “As soon as I get the results of the second one and it’s good, I’ll be on a plane to Philadelphia.”

Kingery has begun to ease back into physical activity. He is doing some hitting. He believes he can be baseball-ready to play in the Phillies’ season opener July 24.

But he’s not sure he will have been cleared by then by MLB and the Phillies. Once he gets to Philadelphia, he will have to go through intake protocols and more testing. He said that because he had a difficult illness, the team would likely want him to go through some extra testing, just to make sure his heart and lungs are good.

Kingery said he’s spoken to only a few of his teammates. He thinks of them. He wants to be with them.

And he wants them all to stay healthy.

“It’s frustrating to see everything going on in Philly and know I should be there if it weren’t for testing delays,” he said. “But every protocol that MLB and the Phillies are taking is necessary. 

“There are ways we can take precautions without there being a big outbreak so we can play this season.

“But I want people to know this is not a two-week thing if you get it. You’re not supposed to do any physical activity for 10 to 14 days after a positive test. That could be a month. That’s a huge part of the season so you don’t want to get it. You have to take the precautions and protocols seriously."

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MLB odds 2020: Bryce Harper could be good NL MVP bet in shortened season

MLB odds 2020: Bryce Harper could be good NL MVP bet in shortened season

Playing 37 percent of a normal season lends unpredictability to a lot of things. 

The MVP race is one of them. 

If a player has a big month, that accounts for half of the season. Any number of guys can get hot for 3 or 4 weeks and establish themselves as the frontrunner for MVP honors.

Bryce Harper is one of those guys. Harper won the 2015 NL MVP as a 22-year old, hitting .330 with 42 HR, 99 RBI and a 1.109 OPS. But he hasn't finished in the Top 10 of the MVP voting since. Entering his second season in a Phillies uniform, Harper is listed among the favorites to win the 2020 NL MVP award.

Depending on which sportsbook you're referencing, Harper has anywhere between 13-1 to 20-1 MVP odds. The players with better odds than Harper include Christian Yelich, Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger, Ronald Acuna Jr. and Juan Soto. The competition to win NL MVP will be stiff, especially when you factor in other worthy candidates like Nolan Arenado, Javier Baez, Freddie Freeman and Kris Bryant.

But if you can get Harper at anywhere close to 20-1 odds, several reasons suggest it may be worth taking a flier.

His penchant for hot starts over the course of his career is well documented. Harper has a 1.025 OPS to go along with 47 HR and 132 RBI in 179 career games in March and April. He's entering his age 27 season, which is often the peak of a player's prime. 

He's settled in to his new city and adjusted to his new teammates. Granted, Harper and every other MLB player will have to adapt to the unprecedented circumstances surrounding this season. But speaking with the media last week, he seems as comfortable as one can be with the idea of playing baseball in the middle of a pandemic.

And let's not forget the added motivation of watching his former team hoist the World Series trophy last October. 

The one drawback that comes to mind is that Harper will be playing in empty ballparks, at least to start the season. More than any other player in baseball, Harper feeds off the crowd. He channels the positive energy at home and the negative energy on the road and uses it to his advantage. 

Will a lack of juice in the ballpark have an adverse effect on his performance?

"It's going to be a challenge for everybody," Harper said last Friday in a zoom press conference with reporters. "You have to remember that you are playing for the fans who are watching you at home. They're probably excited as all get out to be able to watch you play. I'm going to play my same game. I'm still going to pump my fist, I'm still going to play as hard as I can. There are people watching, they might not be in the stands but they're watching us from home and we owe them our best."

17 days away from Opening Day, Harper is locked in. It's been a long time since he's gone 10 months without playing a meaningful game. His focus and excitement are evident just listening to him talk. It all could translate to a big year, potentially an MVP year. 

Place your bets accordingly.  

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