Phillies

So far, Bryce Harper likes the food and the fans in Philly

So far, Bryce Harper likes the food and the fans in Philly

Bryce Harper arrived at Citizens Bank Park on Sunday afternoon two for two in the win column and …

“Restaurant-wise, I’m seven for seven,” he said.

Harper arrived in Philadelphia a week ago Monday night along with his teammates.

So far, he said, the experience has been great. Wins on the field, adulation from the stands and good food in the city.

“Every place I’ve looked at and went to has been good,” he said. “I want to keep that going.”

Most of all he wants to keep the wins going.

The Phillies beat the Atlanta Braves in the first two games of the season, both in front of raucous, sellout crowds.

“It’s been a lot of fun to come into a clubhouse where everyone’s arms have been opened,” Harper said before Sunday night’s series finale. “I’ve said it before, but it’s true. We’ve had a lot of fun as a team the past couple days.

“As a team, as a group, we were super excited and thrilled to be able to go out there and have the fans behind us. Thursday was great, yesterday was great. Just the way they’ve been showing up and supporting us — we want to be as good as we can be for this fan base. That’s what they expect.”

Harper said he was not surprised by the early fan support.

“I don't think so, just because they're such good fans,” he said. “They understand the game. They understand sports and their city. You see Eagles games, Sixers games, how supportive they are of all these teams. To be able to have them come into the Bank and really cheer us on and do what they know how to do, it's an advantage for us to have the fan base that we have and it puts the other team on a little bit of needles. It's a lot of fun.”

Harper crushed a 465-foot home run on Saturday and was lured out of the dugout for a curtain call. He thrust his arms skyward and shouted, “Let’s go!” with an unprintable word in the middle. The guy is intense and he likes the intensity that the fans have shown.

“It makes you want to be so good,” he said. “It makes you want to be that much better of a ballplayer. It makes you want to work hard, it makes you want to play hard. If we can match that intensity in the city with our team, then it's going to make us that much better.”

Manager Gabe Kapler has been impressed with the way Harper has “owned” his entry in Philadelphia.

“He's connected with people,” Kapler said. “He's connected with people in the ballpark. He's connected with his teammates. He's connected with the coaching staff. He's connected with the city. He's connected with the fans. And he knew that yesterday after that home run was a perfect opportunity to further establish that relationship and he did a great job with that.

“I think the concept that we, the Phillies, are in a partnership with the city is something that Bryce embraces. I don't want to put words in his mouth, but I believe he sees these opportunities to connect with the fans because they are an extension of our team. And good, excited energy in this city, in theory, can lead to better results. It doesn't work that way if you don't have talent. But given that we have a pretty talented club, it's possible that Bryce sees that connection as helping the Phillies win and making the people in Philadelphia feel good. I think he sees a big picture like that.”

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Aaron Nola slipped in one key area last season and is out to improve on it in 2020

Aaron Nola slipped in one key area last season and is out to improve on it in 2020

CLEARWATER — Aaron Nola did not have a bad season in 2019 by any stretch of the imagination. He made every start and went 12-7 with a 3.87 ERA. There are pitchers all over baseball who would love to have a season like that.

But it's indisputable that Nola's 2019 season was not nearly as good as his 2018 season. In 2018, he was brilliant. He went 17-6 with a 2.37 ERA. He finished third in the National League Cy Young voting.

Nola's WHIP in 2018 was a sterling 0.975.

Last season, it was 1.265.

After pitching two scoreless innings in his spring debut Sunday, Nola reflected on his 2019 season.

"I didn't get ahead," he said.

He's right.

Check out the numbers.

In 2018, Nola threw a first-pitch strike 69.4 percent of the time. That ranked second in the majors to St. Louis right-hander Miles Mikolas (71.1).

Last season, Nola's first-pitch strike percentage slipped to 62.3. That ranked 39th in the majors, well behind leader Max Scherzer (70.4) and teammate Zach Eflin, who ranked fourth (68.6).

Nola ended up walking 3.6 batters per nine innings last season, up from 2.5 in his big year of 2018.

So, it's no surprise what Nola is working on this spring.

"Just fill up the strike zone and throw the ball down a lot," he said. "That's kind of the key. Get ahead of guys and stay ahead of guys. I just want to focus on having that tunnel vision around the plate."

If you've paid attention to the things Phillies pitchers have said this spring and even late last season, you know they weren't always comfortable with the practices of former manager Gabe Kapler and former pitching coach Chris Young. The theme in this camp, at least among the pitchers, can be summed up in one word.

Simplify.

"I'm just going to simplify some things and throw my fastball for strikes," Nola said. "I don't want to throw too hard too early in the count."

Nola pointed to his outing Sunday. He allowed a hit to open the game then got a double-play ball with a strike down in the zone.

"I want to try to get ground balls and I felt like I did that today," Nola said. "I got a double play and it's satisfying to get double plays."

Nola, 26, has so far enjoyed bonding with Bryan Price, his fourth pitching coach in as many seasons. Price espouses some traditional philosophies, like keeping the ball down. In that regard, he is similar to Bob McClure and Rick Kranitz, two former Phillies pitching coaches that Nola thrived under.

"That's been my mindset ever since I started to pitch and it is really stressed now," he said of pitching down in the zone. "I think that's what pitching should be and that's what we've always learned how to do.

"I think the state of the game is to simplify things and get back to that part of it. I look forward to my one-on-one bullpen sessions with (Price). When you have a bad game or not as good of a game as you want to go back to basics in the bullpen sessions. I've had previous pitching coaches like that and it has helped me a lot. Just to simplify things is going to go a long way."

Nola believes if he does a better job getting ahead early in counts that his curveball and particularly his changeup will become better weapons for him in 2020. His changeup blossomed under McClure and Kranitz during their stints in Philadelphia.

"My changeup wasn't as consistent as it was in previous years," Nola said. "I am just trying to get back to throwing that for strikes down more.

"When I'm throwing everything for strikes, I have three pitches."

Manager Joe Girardi has not named an opening day starter yet, but Nola is expected to be the guy when he does.

And when Nola takes the mound March 26 in Miami, his goal will be this:

Strike 1.

That's a big reason he had a great season in 2018 and why he slipped some in 2019.

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Updates on Phillies spring training debuts of Zack Wheeler, Jake Arrieta, Zach Eflin

Updates on Phillies spring training debuts of Zack Wheeler, Jake Arrieta, Zach Eflin

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Phillies ace Aaron Nola made his first start of the spring Sunday while their new No. 2, Zack Wheeler, is slated to debut Saturday in Dunedin against the Blue Jays.

Wheeler has been throwing to hitters at the Phils' minor-league complex.

Fifth starter candidates remain in focus as Vince Velasquez makes his first start on Monday against the Orioles in Clearwater.

Nick Pivetta, another candidate, made his first start Saturday and showed a potential new weapon.

Lefty Ranger Suarez is being stretched out as a starter and could be a dark-horse candidate for the fifth job. He will get a start Tuesday at Bradenton while Jake Arrieta starts in Clearwater that day. Suarez pitched well out of the bullpen last year but was groomed as a starter in the minors.

Zach Eflin will make his spring debut Wednesday against the Twins in Fort Myers.

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