It’s hard to imagine Phillies would have a playoff shot if Bryce Harper didn’t manage his back problem
If the Phillies' MVP starts every day the rest of the season, he will have started the team’s final 72 games.
Bryce Harper’s back bothered him enough last September that he could not throw a baseball. His arrival to spring training was delayed by a day so he could finish a conditioning program in Las Vegas and he expected to manage his back condition all season. His back kept him out of the lineup for games in April and June. The Phillies didn’t think Harper’s ailment was curable, but it was manageable.
And there they were Tuesday — with just 11 games remaining — with Harper in the lineup for the 61st straight game. It was hard to imagine Harper playing every day for such an extended stretch, especially at the end of the season when the days begin to add up. But he has found a way.
“I think you’d have to give the medical staff the most credit — and Bryce, the work that he puts in to be out there every day,” manager Joe Girardi said. “The player has to be willing to put the work in every day, and he is. And the medical staff does an incredible job with him.”
If Harper starts every day the rest of the season, he will have started the team’s final 72 games. The last time Harper did not start was part of a doubleheader on July 17, and he started the second game that day. So the Phillies last spent a day without Harper in their lineup on June 27, when a sore leg cost him a game. Since then, only two players — Pete Alonso of the Mets and Whit Merrifield of the Royals — have started more games than Harper.
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“I think he’s probably holding up about as well as he can,” Girardi said. “I mean, I still see him taking good swings. I see him making good defensive plays, staying in the zone as a hitter. But I think he’s doing an incredible job.”
Harper’s back condition may not be cured, but it seems to be managed. And it would be hard to imagine the Phillies, who entered Tuesday with a 18.5% chance to make the playoffs according to FanGraphs, having a playoff chance at all if Harper wasn’t in the lineup every day.
He leads the majors in OPS (1.047) and has the fourth-highest batting average (.311) in the National League. Harper could join Ryan Howard, Chuck Klein, and Lefty O’Doul as the only Phillies since 1900 to hit .300 with an on-base percentage of .400 and slugging percentage of .600. His season has willed the Phillies into playoff contention.
“I think he’s had a complete season. The average, power, RBIs, walks, on-base, stolen bases, baserunning, defense. I know in Pittsburgh he had an interesting day,” Girardi said of an adventurous night for Harper in the field last month. “But you take that away and some of the plays that he’s made, it’s been a complete year. He’s done everything that you would ask from a right fielder.”
Connor Brogdon has a chance to return to the Phillies this season as the reliever threw a light bullpen session in the afternoon, two days before he is eligible to be activated from the injured list with a strained groin. If Brogdon can come back, a return next week seems in play.
“I’ve got to see how it came out and what the next step is. They call it ‘touch and feel’ down there,” Girardi said of intensity of the bullpen session. “I’m never quite sure what that means. We used to call it Williamsport [Little League], sometimes it is shorter. But the good thing is that he was off the mound. So that’s a positive.”
Girardi still does not like the rule that requires pitchers to face three batters. “It’s my least favorite rule. And I’ll continue to say that until one comes along that I like even less. I just think it changes the strategy of the game too much,” Girardi said. ... Zack Wheeler will start Wednesday night against Baltimore left-hander Keegan Akin.