For a month, Bryce Harper hit as well as any player in baseball, producing numbers that were on par with his MVP season in 2015. But over the last 10 days, he’s 5-for-35 with 13 strikeouts.
Phillies manager Joe Girardi figured a night off might help.
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Girardi left Harper out of the lineup Friday night for the opener of a four-game, Labor Day-weekend series against the New York Mets at Citi Field. Phil Gosselin started in right field in Harper’s place.
“I just feel that he needs a day off,” Girardi said. “It’s not something that he asked for. He’s probably not even happy with me. But I just felt like he could use a day. He’s been grinding. I’ll tell him just to take it easy today, and he’ll be in there tomorrow.”
After going 1-for-5 with three strikeouts in Thursday’s 6-5, 10-inning victory over the Washington Nationals, Harper said he’s “just missing some pitches and not swinging at the ones I should or swinging at some that are out of the zone.”
In particular, Harper was disappointed in a fourth-inning at-bat in which he struck out with one out and the bases loaded against Nationals reliever Wander Suero.
“I definitely need to get better with guys on base,” Harper said. “I come here to have RBIs and to get guys in in big situations, big spots. I can’t just sit here and say, ‘I need to get the job done,’ and I don’t do it. I need to be better, I’m going to get better.”
Through Aug. 22, Harper might have been the best hitter in baseball, batting .343 and slugging .741 with seven home runs, 19 RBIs, a .478 on-base percentage, and more walks (17) than strikeouts (14).
But Girardi noted that Harper has contributed to the Phillies’ hot streak (nine wins in 10 games entering play Friday night) in other ways. Thursday, for instance, he threw out Luis Garcia at first base on a leadoff single to right field with the game tied in the seventh inning.
“That’s the hardest part [of sitting Harper down]. There’s other things that he does,” Girardi said. “I just think he’s a little off offensively, which I think happens to all hitters, just a little bit disconnected, and we’ve got to get him back.”
After Spencer Howard’s start Monday night, Girardi noted the inning-by-inning decrease in his fastball velocity. The rookie right-hander’s heater averaged 95.3 mph when he struck out the side in the first inning, but dipped to 94.6 in the second inning, 93.7 in the third, 92.2 in the fourth, and 91.9 in the fifth, according to Statcast.
Girardi said Howard is “healthy as a horse.” But it seems the Phillies have identified a small hiccup with the 24-year-old’s mechanics.
“Sometimes it looks like he gets a little bit out of whack,” Girardi said. “It’s almost like he’s trying to produce velocity, and he doesn’t produce when he does that. To me, it’s just mechanically staying sound for him.”
Howard, who has a 5.40 ERA through four starts, will face the Mets on Saturday night. He will be opposed by right-hander Seth Lugo.