If you had trouble sleeping last night, then you probably weren’t watching the Phillies game. The Phillies sleep-walked through a 3-1 loss to the Tigers. J.T. Realmuto’s leadoff single in the ninth inning was the team’s first hit since the second inning, and the Phillies ended the night with just one hit in their last 23 at-bats. It was a snoozefest.
The good news is that they don’t have to wait long to wake up, as the Phillies will be back out there tonight at Citizens Bank Park. The bad news is that they, and anyone who watched, still might be sleeping.
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Bryce Harper was hitless Tuesday night, struck out twice, and again had trouble catching up to fastballs. He was booed after striking out a few minutes after misplaying a ball in right field. It was not Harper’s best game, manager Gabe Kapler said.
It hasn’t been Harper’s best game for most of the last three weeks. Since April 7, Harper has had two multi-hit games and is 15-for-80 with 29 strikeouts and a .330 on-base percentage. Take away his five-hit game in Colorado on April 19, and Harper has a .609 OPS in his last 21 games. Harper, after an exciting start to the season, is in a funk.
“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.”
Harper is swinging at roughly the same out-of-the-zone pitches that he did last season, but his contact rate on those pitches is 10 percent less this season. His contact rate dipped Tuesday night to 64.3, which would be a career low, and his swinging-strike percentage spiked to 16.4, five points higher than his career average with Washington.
During this slump, teams have challenged Harper with fastballs. He has seen fastballs for more than 60 percent of his pitches in nine of his last 16 games. He saw that many fastballs just once in his first 13 games. Harper, according to StatCast, has a .424 slugging percentage against fastballs, which include four-seamers, two-seamers, cutters, and sinkers. He had a .638 clip last season against the same pitches.
Harper struck out in the eighth inning Tuesday night in an at-bat in which Tigers reliever Joe Jimenez threw five pitches, including four fastballs 95 mph or better. Harper watched one for a strike and another for a ball, and missed the other two. He is slugging just .263 against pitches that are 95 mph or faster, a season after slugging .714 against those pitches.
“I’d do the same thing,” Harper said of the fans’ reaction. “It’s not fun to lose, not fun to watch when you’re playing that way. 0-for-4, two punchies, I’m probably thinking the same thing walking back to the dugout.”
Harper’s slump has been caused by his failure to do two things he did so well in the past: Make contact on pitches outside the zone, and crush fastballs. He is just one month into a 13-year contract, which began with an emotional first few weeks. Harper, if he is able to play to his strengths, will be just fine.
“I don’t think that baseball is meant to be evaluated in that short a period of time,” Kapler said. “There’s going to be ups, [and] there’s going to be downs for even the best hitters in baseball. This is just a stretch that Bryce is struggling through.”
Vince Velasquez started Tuesday night’s loss and was troubled again by a high pitch count, Bob Brookover writes. “Vince Velasquez had 99 problems, and his pitch count was No. 1,” Brooky wrote.
Mike Sielski went to Allentown this week to check in on Nick Pivetta, who believes he is ready to pitch again in the majors whenever the Phillies call him. “I don’t think I’m ever going to feel a sense of relief here. I know that I can go up to the big leagues. I know I could start in five days. I know that I can dominate whoever they’re playing — I guess it’s the Detroit Tigers. I know I can do that. I’ve already done it. That’s why I had a job all of last year in the big leagues,” Pivetta said.
Pivetta could be headed back to the majors, but it could come in a new role. The Phillies are considering adding Pivetta to their bullpen because there is no place for him in their starting rotation. “I don’t think there’s a whole lot of risk to seeing him out of the bullpen. I don’t think it stunts his development as a starting pitcher to see him out of the bullpen. But I think there are a lot of stakeholders who need to be involved in this discussion,” Gabe Kapler said.
Remember how much fun it was last season to watch the Phillies on Facebook? Well, get ready for YouTube. The company signed a deal with MLB to exclusively broadcast 13 games after the All Star break. It’s a safe bet that the Phillies, and Bryce Harper, will be one of those games. Good news is that watching on YouTube should be much easier than Facebook.
Tonight: Aaron Nola faces left-hander Daniel Norris, 7:05 p.m.
Tomorrow: The Phillies are off.
Friday: Jerad Eickhoff starts vs. the Nationals, 7:05 p.m.
Saturday: Jimmy Rollins retires in a pregame ceremony, 7:05 p.m.
Sunday: Zach Eflin starts the series finale, 2:05 p.m.
When you’re watching the Sixers game on Thursday night, keep in mind that the Raptors’ tough-as-nails point guard has a tie to Philadelphia baseball history.
Kyle Lowry, who starred at the now-closed Cardinal Dougherty, grew up in one of the North Philadelphia rowhomes that once invited fans onto the roof to watch Philadelphia Athletics games at Shibe Park.
The house, according to former longtime Daily News sportswriter Ted Silary, was on 20th Street and overlooked right field. In 1935, A’s owner Connie Mack built a “spite fence” to block the fans’ views from the rooftops after attendance had plummeted during the Great Depression.
Send questions by email or on Twitter @matt_breen.
Question: This year’s team has a resemblance to the 2008 team with the exception of a true closer. [Brad] Lidge was an essential factor in their WS win. I don’t believe in a tight game against a playoff team the current bullpen is adequate. Any hope that management will see that and go out and get [Craig] Kimbrel or someone of similar abilities? — David W. via email
Anwer: Thanks, David. The Phillies are going to wait and see with their bullpen as David Robertson, Victor Arano and Tommy Hunter are all rehabbing injuries. It’s only May, so the Phillies can afford to wait.
The bullpen has averaged 4.68 runs per game, which is near the league average but is the best mark in the NL East. If they need an arm in June or July, they’ll be motivated to go out and acquire one.