Who said Bryce Harper doesn't make enough contact?
Never mind that the Phillies trailed by five runs in the top of the sixth inning on Tuesday night. Or that they had one hit -- an infield single, no less -- against Brewers starter Brandon Woodruff and were showing no signs of coming back, as they did one night earlier.
Harper still made a pair of sliding catches that took him, feet-first, into the wall in foul territory along the right-field line. The first grab left him doubled over and grabbing his left knee; the second earned him a standing ovation, the only one of the night in a 6-1 Phillies loss at Citizens Bank Park.
Feel free to analyze the cost-benefit of a $330-million superstar risking injury to catch two foul balls in the late innings of a game that wasn’t close. Afterward, Harper conceded that his knee was “definitely a little sore” and that he “won’t know until tomorrow” whether he will have to miss his first game of the season Wednesday night.
And those cheers that he received in the sixth inning were replaced by boos in the eighth, when he struck out for a second time in the game, bumping his majors-leading total to 56 whiffs in only 146 at-bats. But Harper’s effort was appreciated within the Phillies’ clubhouse, especially at a time when he’s doing so little at the plate to help the team win.
"He showed his toughness tonight," manager Gabe Kapler said. "Those plays were excellent plays. The first one was really special. He's the kind of guy you want in your corner. That kind of toughness plays. It plays long term."
Harper went 0-for-2 to drop his batting average at .219. He did draw two more walks, but those free passes didn’t add up to anything in a game in which the Phillies got dropped into an early hole by starter Jerad Eickhoff.
On the heels of the best start of his career six days earlier in St. Louis, and having not given up a homer in 30 innings since being called up from triple-A Lehigh Valley, Eickhoff (2-2) got taken deep twice. Yasmani Grandal’s three-run shot came in the second inning, and Phillies killer Ryan Braun added a two-run homer in the third.
"Everything wasn't as crisp as I would've liked," Eickhoff said.
The big right-hander doesn’t set the radar gun ablaze, relying instead on mixing his fastball, slider, and curveball and being precise with the location of all three pitches. The Brewers weren’t fooled at all.
Eickhoff’s biggest regrets: A curveball that Mike Moustakas lined for a leadoff single in the second inning, and the slider that Jesus Aguilar hit for another single before Grandal’s homer.
"Curveball was just not biting like it normally does. Stayed up a little bit," Kapler said. "He just didn't have his best command tonight."
Braun's homer, which came on a curveball, marked his 25th career home run against the Phillies in 74 games. It was also his 14th homer in 36 games at Citizens Bank Park, and it opened a 5-0 lead.
That was the score when Harper made his sliding catches. The first came on Keston Hiura’s inning-opening fly ball down the line and left an imprint of Harper’s cleats in the wall padding. After being checked by assistant athletic trainer Shawn Fcasni, he remained in the game.
"It was him banging his knee, not twisting it or anything like that," Kapler said. "I asked Bryce. He said, 'I'm totally fine.' I said, 'You promise?' He said, 'Yeah, I'm good to go.' Then he proved it, right? He's a fighter, everything that you want in a teammate."
But Harper admitted he won't really know the status of his knee until he wakes up Wednesday.
“There was so much adrenaline right there in that situation, where I didn’t really feel it in the instant,” Harper said. "I felt fine in the moment, and then I got in the dugout and felt fine as well. I thought I could play through it, and I did.