Miguel Cabrera

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.

Arrieta comes out strong, but Kapler remains vague on timetable

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AP Images

Arrieta comes out strong, but Kapler remains vague on timetable

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Ever since Jake Arrieta flew into town on Air Middleton and raised expectations for 2018, Phillies officials have said they would take a methodical approach with getting him ready for the regular season.

The Phils followed that plan in holding Arrieta to two innings and 31 pitches in the right-hander’s hotly anticipated spring debut against the Detroit Tigers on Thursday.

“We had a very specific pitch count in mind and we feel like we executed the innings and the pitch count to a T,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “We did not want to push the envelope at all. There’s no reason to. We’re focused on the long view.”

Arrieta struck out the first two batters of the game then allowed a solo home run to two-time American League MVP Miguel Cabrera, a double, a single and another run over the balance of his outing. He had hoped to go three innings, but understands the team’s plan.

“I'm on board with what these guys intend to do,” said the 32-year-old pitcher, who signed a three-year, $75 million contract with the Phils last week. “I know they have my health and the team's success over the long haul in mind. That's the most important thing moving forward.”

Kapler liked what he saw from Arrieta.

“It was a real positive outing,” he said. “We wanted to see health and strength. We saw both of those things and he threw strikes.”

Twenty-two of Arrieta’s 31 pitches were strikes.

Arrieta’s arm strength was impressive. He touched 95 mph on the stadium radar gun. He also threw several fastballs that registered 94. His fastball velocity had been a concern as it dropped from 94.9 mph in his Cy Young season of 2015 to 92.6 mph last season, according to PITCHf/x data.

“My timing and my delivery were nice,” Arrieta said. “The ball was coming out of my hand good. Even though I'm not particularly worried about velocity, the velocity was nice today. Sinking fastball was really good. I threw some good curveballs. The cutter wasn't necessarily great, along with the changeup. But those will come with repetition.”

Arrieta said he had “a ton of nervous energy” before the start.

“Now that it's over, I take a deep breath and I remember what it feels like to be in a game situation,” he said. “Umpires, crowd. It felt great. I'm healthy. The ball is coming out good. To get the first one out of the way — even though it is a little bit later — it's a good sign.”

Kapler continued to play things close to the vest with Arrieta’s timetable. What is clear, however, is that Arrieta will get one more start in Florida before camp breaks on Tuesday. He could build to around 50 pitches in that one and be ready to start in New York on April 2, 3 or 4. If the Phils decide that Arrieta needs two more outings to prepare for the regular season, he could debut on April 7 at home against Miami. Either way, he lines up to make 30-plus starts.

MLB Notes: Tigers' Cabrera banned 7 games, Yankees' Sanchez 4 for brawl

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USA Today Images

MLB Notes: Tigers' Cabrera banned 7 games, Yankees' Sanchez 4 for brawl

NEW YORK -- Two of baseball's biggest hitters were suspended Friday after taking some menacing swings with their fists.

Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera was banned seven games and New York Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez got barred four games for their actions on a fight-filled afternoon at Comerica Park.

Major League Baseball handed out the penalties one day after the Yankees and Tigers got into a trio of beanball-related clashes during Detroit's 10-6 victory.

Also suspended were Tigers reliever Alex Wilson (four games), New York catcher Austin Romine (two games) and Detroit manager Brad Ausmus (one game). All four players were appealing and remain eligible until the process is complete.

Sanchez, an All-Star bopper on a powerful tear at the plate lately, was in the lineup for Friday night's home game against Seattle, catching and batting third for the playoff contenders.

"It's going to be four games that I'm not going to be able to help the team and I know they need me, so it's not a good feeling," he said through a translator (see full story)

Cardinals: No Rally Cat as team mascot
ST. LOUIS -- The Rally Cat won't be spending time frolicking as the mascot of the St. Louis Cardinals.

The frisky feline ran onto the field during a game with the Kansas City Royals on Aug. 9 and was a good luck charm. Yadier Molina hit a grand slam on the next pitch after the cat was retrieved by a groundskeeper.

The four-month-old tabby disappeared and the St. Louis Feral Cat Outreach captured it the next day. The Cardinals announced plans to adopt the cat, host a Rally Cat Appreciation Day on Sept. 10 and let it live in the clubhouse.

But the nonprofit balked, saying the team wanted to exploit the cat rather than take care of it.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports the Cardinals dispute that claim, but they don't want to get into a cat fight.

The group is looking for someone to adopt the kitten after it gains more weight.