Of all the numbers that stand out amid Bryce Harper’s MVP push — the 29 home runs, the 1.012 OPS, the 49 consecutive starts in which he has played all but nine innings — this may be the most relevant over the Phillies’ final 24 games: 54.4% of the pitches thrown to Harper this season have been outside the strike zone, according to Statcast, the eighth-highest percentage among players with at least 250 plate appearances.
Harper slugged his third homer in four games in the first inning Wednesday night in Milwaukee, and after that, the Brewers walked him three times, including with the bases loaded in the third. They expressly pitched around him in a one-run game in the eighth inning, not giving him anything to hit and walking him on four pitches.
“For me, Harper’s locked in right now,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said last weekend. “When he’s like that, you’ve got to be careful all the time.”
In yesterday’s newsletter, we mentioned how much the Phillies miss Rhys Hoskins against left-handed pitching. Well, they also miss him as protection for Harper. J.T. Realmuto went 6-for-30 with 11 strikeouts on the road trip that ended with a 4-3 loss to the Brewers; Andrew McCutchen went 7-for-32 with five strikeouts. The Phillies will need more from them, especially when they’re batting behind Harper.
To Harper’s credit, he has taken his walks. He has swung at only 30.6% of pitches outside the strike zone, his lowest chase rate since 2018.
“He’s doing the right thing,” manager Joe Girardi said. “He’s not chasing and trying to do too much, and that’s the key, right? We talk about keeping the line moving, and if they’re not going to give him a pitch to hit, we don’t want him to go out of the zone and try to do something. And he’s been really disciplined.”
Ultimately, though, the Phillies want Harper to swing the bat. And if the hitters behind him aren’t more productive, he figures to get fewer opportunities down the stretch.
“I think that’s probably the smart play right now,” Phillies pitcher Kyle Gibson said of the don’t-let-Harper-beat-you strategy. “He’s locked in, he’s seeing it well, and he stays within himself in those big moments all the time. There’s probably nobody we’d rather have up in those situations than him right now.”
And nobody opposing teams would rather walk.
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Kyle Gibson endured a rocky first inning in the Phillies’ 4-3 loss Wednesday night.
Zach Eflin will have season-ending surgery Friday on the patellar tendon in his right knee. It will be a six- to eight-month recovery, and in the words of Dave Dombrowski, “there’s a concern” about how Eflin will come back.
The concept of a “bullpen game” instead of a No. 5 starter may seem foreign to many Phillies fans, but it’s become fairly common among successful teams like the Rays, Dodgers, and Giants. Matt Breen delves into why the Phillies have decided to do it for the rest of the season.
Tonight: Ranger Suárez starts at home vs. the Rockies, 7:05 p.m.
Tomorrow: Phillies’ bullpen vs. Colorado’s Germán Márquez, 7:05 p.m.
Saturday: Zack Wheeler faces the Rockies, 6:05 p.m.
Sunday: Aaron Nola starts the series finale vs. the Rockies, 1:05 p.m.
Monday: The Phillies are off.
Stat of the day
As the Phillies return home tonight, they are 2½ games behind the division-leading Atlanta Braves and three games back of the San Diego Padres for the second wild-card berth. But the schedule remains their biggest ally.
Not only do the Phillies play 14 of the next 17 games at home, but those 14 games are against the Rockies, Cubs, Orioles, and Pirates, who are a combined 88-192 (.314 winning percentage) on the road this season. The Rockies, in particular, are 18-50 away from Coors Field.
From the mailbag
Send questions by email or on Twitter @ScottLauber.
Question: Haven’t heard much about Adam Haseley lately. Wanted to get an update on how he has been doing at Lehigh Valley since his return, and where he fits into Phillies’ long-term plans. Keep up the good work! — Don D., via email
Answer: Thanks, Don. It has been a difficult season for Haseley. Through Wednesday, he was slashing .218/.314/.316 with four doubles, three homers, and 13 RBIs in 153 plate appearances in the minors since returning in early June from a six-week leave of absence. He missed time with a groin strain and landed on the COVID-19 restricted list during the outbreak at the Phillies’ spring-training complex while he rehabbed there in August.
Haseley almost certainly will stay at triple A for the rest of the season. The Phillies could send him to instructional league to make up for the at-bats he missed. It’s possible they could bring him to spring training with a clean slate and a chance to make the team. But he may be a classic change-of-scenery candidate in the offseason. If the Phillies could package him in a trade, that might be best for everyone.