CLEARWATER, Fla. - Bryce Harper, his day finished, stopped his retreat to the Phillies clubhouse to lean against the rail of the dugout.
He homered twice in a 9-7 Grapefruit League win Wednesday afternoon against the Pirates as the lineup showed spark three weeks before opening day. And as Harper leaned on the rail, he chatted with Joe Dillon, the new hitting coach who could be the voice that turns last season’s underachieving lineup into the powerful unit the Phillies dreamed it would be.
“He’s great,” Harper said. “He brings a good philosophy to our team. He’s not going to try and change anybody. He lets every guy be themselves and he brings a little bit of pitch sequence and things like that, just seeing stuff, the machine, just a little different factors here and there.”
Harper hit a two-run homer to right field in the first and a solo homer to left in the fourth. He went 2-for-3 with four RBIs and played the first four innings.
J.T. Realmuto led off the first inning with a first-pitch homer and went 3-for-3. Carlos De La Cruz, a minor-league outfielder called over for the game, hit a pinch-hit two-run homer in the eighth to break a 7-7 tie.
“You get into some games like this, you’re never sure what’s going to happen because of the wind. Not a great day to be a pitcher today,” manager Joe Girardi said. “And then you get the young kid Carlos, who hits the two-run homer to basically win the game. That’s great. What a great moment for him.”
Dillon, 44, was the assistant hitting coach in Washington the last two seasons, including Harper’s final year with the Nationals.
“He knows my swing fairly well just because I was with him,” Harper said. “He knows if I get too big, I’m worse. If I stay within myself, I’m better. I think that’s a lot of guys. He’s going to help a lot of people.”
Dillon takes over a lineup that added four All-Stars before last season but still finished roughly league average in every offensive category. The Phillies thought their bulked-up lineup would cover up their pitching woes, but the lineup failed to outslug opponents and the Phillies finished at .500. The same hitters - with the addition of Didi Gregorious - are in Clearwater. Perhaps Dillon can tap into that potential.
“I think as a team we have to keep going, keep building, and get better,” Harper said. “And not just say ‘Get better.’ but really be better, myself included. We need to do that.”
Aaron Nola pitched four innings in his third start of the spring. He allowed two runs on four hits with two strikeouts and one walk. The right-hander continues to progress toward being the starter on opening day in Miami. There’s not much drama around him.