It has been all Bryce Harper all the time in Phillies camp so far this spring training. Is he coming? When is he coming? How’s he getting here? How far did he hit that batting-practice home run? When is he playing?
The answers to all those questions in order: Yes. Last Saturday. John Middleton’s private plane with the red "P" on the tail. Far. Really, really far. And, finally, Saturday afternoon against the Toronto Blue Jays at Spectrum Field.
Harper’s first game action will be as a designated hitter, and it should be a packed house at Spectrum Field.
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There have been a lot of interesting stories that have received little attention this spring training because of Harper’s presence, but the one that interests me the most is the pitching staff because I think it’s the most important. Righthander Drew Anderson caught my attention again by allowing just one hit and striking out six in a three-inning performance against the New York Yankees on Thursday at Spectrum Field.
The Yankees did not send over their "A" team from Tampa, but their lineup did include Troy Tulowitzki, Miguel Andujar, and Gary Sanchez. Anderson, with the help of his newly implemented cutter, struck out Tulowitzki twice and Sanchez once. Regardless of the level of the competition, it is a great day when you strike out six of the 10 batters you face.
Meanwhile, a split-squad Phillies team was in Lakeland and received seven sensational innings from the expected minor-league starting trio of JoJo Romero, Adonis Medina, and Cole Irvin. Those three, facing a Detroit Tigers lineup that included Josh Harrison, Nick Castellanos, and Miguel Cabrera, combined to allow just five hits, three walks and one unearned run. They also struck out nine.
Anderson, who will turn 25 later this month, has allowed just one earned run on four hits and a walk and struck out 11 in his three spring-training performances. Romero has a 1.13 ERA over eight innings.
It is no secret that the Phillies’ expected starting rotation will include Aaron Nola, Jake Arrieta, Nick Pivetta, Zach Eflin, and Vince Velasquez. But it is also no secret that Pivetta, Eflin, and Velasquez have much to prove this season. Pitchers such as Anderson and the others who will open the season at double-A Reading or triple-A Lehigh Valley have a chance to apply pressure should one of the bottom three in the rotation struggle.
Speaking of Vince Velasquez, he decided after last season to switch from No. 28 to No. 21, and our Matt Breen got him to explain why. Velasquez said he is also a new pitcher with a new delivery this season.
While the Phillies played one game in Clearwater against the Yankees, a 6-0 loss, and another in Lakeland against the Tigers, a 3-1 victory, it was a back field in Clearwater at the Carpenter Complex that drew the most attention. Guess who was there? Harper took part in a simulated game and slammed an opposite-field home run off minor leaguer Gustavo Armas in his first at-bat. Manager Gabe Kapler confirmed afterward that Harper will make his debut Saturday.
In his first live batting-practice session Wednesday, Harper hit a ball out of Spectrum Field while facing Jerad Eickhoff.
Harper is the slugger getting all the hype this spring, but Rhys Hoskins figures to hit his share of home runs again this season, too. He hit 34 of them last season and already has 52 in 203 games. At the moment, however, Hoskins is most focused on reacquainting himself with first base after playing most of last season as a left fielder. He explained to Scott Lauber why it’s not exactly like riding a bike.
Bobby Abreu is working as a guest instructor in spring training, and columnist David Murphy presented a case as to why the former Phillies outfielder deserves Hall of Fame consideration. Murphy and I entirely agree that at the very least Abreu belongs on the Phillies’ Wall of Fame at Citizens Bank Park.
Thursday in photographs from the great Yong Kim. Yes, there’s some Harper in there.
Finally, you can listen to our latest Extra Innings podcast right here. You might be surprised to learn that we talk a lot about Harper.
Today: Zach Eflin will pitch against the Atlanta in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., 6:05 p.m.
Tomorrow: Bryce Harper makes his debut as DH vs. Toronto at Spectrum Field, 1:05 p.m.
March 25: Phillies finish spring training with game against Tampa Bay, 1:05 p.m.
March 28: Season opener vs. Atlanta at Citizens Bank Park, 3:05 p.m.
April 2: Harper plays first game against former team at Nationals Park, 7:05 p.m.
When Harper stepped into the box for live batting practice against Eickhoff on Wednesday morning, it was not the first time he had faced the righthander. Eickhoff, in fact, has had quite a bit of success against Harper, holding him to two hits in 12 at-bats without issuing a walk. He also has struck out Harper six times.
Overall, Harper has a .291 batting average, .404 on-base percentage, and .963 OPS against the 17 pitchers in Phillies camp whom he has faced. He has hit nine doubles and nine home runs against those 17 pitchers.
Harper said at his introductory news conference that he was happy he did not have to face Nola anymore, but he hit .303 (10-for-33) with three home runs and seven RBIs against Nola. Arrieta held Harper to a .190 average (4-for-21). Arrieta, however, did walk Harper nine times.
Here’s a look at Harper’s complete record against Phillies pitchers in camp.
Send questions by email or on Twitter @brookob.
Question: With the Bryce Harper signing complete, it seems like the Phillies roster is all but set. Assuming a (healthy) bench of Nick Williams, Roman Quinn, Scott Kingery, and Andrew Knapp, who would the Phillies use at 1B to give Hoskins a day off, or in the event he gets hurt? This looks to be the one spot on the field for which they don’t have coverage.
Mike C., via email