The Phillies didn’t score a run Tuesday night until the eighth inning, they had just one extra-base hit, Jerad Eickhoff struggled, and Bryce Harper struck out twice. Gabe Kapler said after a listless 6-1 loss to the Brewers that the Phillies had to turn the page. They move on tonight to another game against the Brewers, but first they’ll welcome diehard fan Bruce Willis for a ceremonial first pitch.
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Harper, Kapler said, is pressing at the plate and “putting a lot of pressure on himself to perform." He struck out twice Tuesday night for his 20th multi-strikeout game of the season, eight of which have come in his last 10 games. Yes, Harper is still walking to reach base, but he has just three extra-base hits in his last 14 games.
Harper has started all 41 games, and the Phillies won’t have a day off until Memorial Day. Wednesday night presents a matchup against a lefthanded starter. Kapler said earlier this season that Harper could play every game this season. But could a day off provide a mental break for the team’s $330 million superstar?
“Baseball is going out there each day and trying to get out of it,” Harper said after Tuesday night’s loss. “I’m not sure a day off is going to work for me mentally or physically. Just have to keep going, keep grinding, and keep trying to get through it.”
Harper’s knee was still sore after the game from when he banged it into the wall in foul territory while making a sliding catch. That injury could keep him out of Wednesday night’s lineup, but Harper sounded more than willing to play through it. He’ll see how he feels when he returns to the ballpark.
Kapler visited Harper on the field after he limped away after the catch. He asked Harper if he was OK. Harper promised he was and played the rest of the game. Unless Harper’s knee flares up, it is safe to expect to see him in Wednesday’s lineup. Because he won’t be missing a game for a mental break.
“Unless I have a good reason, where I think this is really going to serve him well, I’m not going to do it. Right?” Gabe Kapler said. “It has to be rooted in something rational. Right now, for me, I don’t have a good reason to not have him play tomorrow’s baseball game. And the next day’s baseball game. And the next day’s baseball game. He always gives us our best chance to win.
"We’re always this far away from him going deep and getting on base three or four more times. I don’t know why we wouldn’t want him in there for tomorrow’s game.”
Harper hit the wall twice Tuesday night after making sliding catches, which prompted our Scott Lauber to ask, “Who said Bryce Harper doesn’t make enough contact?” Eickhoff gave up five runs as he failed to follow up his great start last week in St. Louis. Lauber details what went wrong for Eickhoff.
Harper is striking out a record pace, but the Phillies can live with it. General manager Matt Klentak explained why before Wednesday night’s loss: “What great players do is work themselves out of it. This is specific to Bryce, but it’s also specific to a style of play. One of the things that I like about Bryce’s style of play is that even when he’s struggling offensively, he takes his walks. And it’s hard for players to really get into a prolonged slump when they have the patience that Bryce has.”
Phillies front-office member Sam Fuld will hit the big screen Friday when Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel, a movie about Israel at the 2017 World Baseball Classic, debuts in theaters. Fuld, the Phillies’ player-information coordinator, was an outfielder for Team Israel. John Smallwood gave Heading Home a favorable review and wrote that “yes, it is a movie about baseball, but it is much more than that.”
Tonight: Jake Arrieta starts against Gio Gonzalez, 7:05 p.m.
Thursday: Zach Eflin faces Zach Davies in the series finale, 1:05 p.m.
Friday: Phillies open a three-game series vs. the Rockies, 7:05 p.m.
Monday: The Phils open a four-game set at Wrigley Field against the Cubs, 8:05 p.m.
Scott Kingery played his first rehab game Tuesday night with single-A Lakewood as he begins to work his way back to rejoining the Phillies. Kingery will again play multiple positions for the Phillies, but finding time at second base could be a challenge. Cesar Hernandez went 1 for 4 on Tuesday but is batting .354 with a .928 OPS over 88 plate appearances in his last 22 games. Hernandez, who began the season in a slump, has found himself at the bottom of the lineup.
Send questions by email or on Twitter @matt_breen.
Question: Do you think that part of the power of a dangerous hitter like Harper is that there’s so much concentration on giving him the best stuff from the opposing bullpen that our other batters benefit? - Richard W. via email from London.
Answer: Thanks, Richard. Even though Harper is struggling, I still think his presence in the lineup benefits players such as Rhys Hoskins and Jean Segura. Opposing pitchers have to attack Segura, knowing that Harper is on deck. And then Hoskins, batting behind Harper, has a good chance of coming to the plate with runners on base because Harper is still reaching base at a solid clip during his slump.