Gabe Kapler had managed more than 100 games from the steps of the home dugout at Citizens Bank Park, but it was not until Saturday afternoon that he saw a baseball travel the way Bryce Harper’s smash soared.
Its landing spot -- 466 feet from home plate, beyond the center-field stands -- was rare territory, Kapler said.
Aaron Nola, tucked beneath the dugout’s awning after fooling the first three Rockies batters he faced in the 2-1 win, lost sight of Harper’s titanic blast.
“It looked like it went out of the stadium from where I was sitting,” Nola said.
Harper’s solo homer cleared the brick-walled batter’s eye and smacked onto Ashburn Alley. It did not leave the stadium, but Nola’s estimation was not far off. It was not only far, but fast. It rocketed off Harper’s bat at 114.1 mph, more than 10 mph faster than the average home run hit this season.
“Pretty impressive,” Kapler said.
Harper shrugged his shoulders.
“Same as any other hit, I think, for me,” Harper said. Former Nationals manager Matt Williams "always used to tell me, ‘It’s not how far. It’s how many you hit.’ I’m just trying to go about it the right way every single day.”
Nola’s first inning -- he struck out three batters looking -- and Harper’s blast set the tone for the Phillies, as they grabbed a series win after dropping three of four to Milwaukee. Nola tied a career-high with 12 strikeouts, threw first-pitch strikes to 18 of 27 batters, and generated 15 swings-and-misses, in his best start of the season. His fastball command was precise, and his curveball had bite.
Nola, after an inconsistent start to the season, was Nola.
“I think two of the guys that you would have predicted preseason to carry us in many ways on the offensive and pitching side did so today,” Kapler said.
Harper has four extra-base hits in his last 15 at-bats. He doubled in the seventh inning for his first multihit game in 10 games and his second since April 19. It is too early to declare his slump busted, but Harper is showing signs of breaking out. The exit velocity of his hits has been high, he’s beginning to hit balls the other way to beat the shift, and he’s crushing fastballs, such as on the homer and double.
“We all believe he is going to break out of what he was in,” Nola said. “The guy works hard at what he does, and we’ve all seen what he has doing throughout his career. Nobody is pressing over him. We know he’s a gamer, and he does a lot to help the team.”
Kapler pointed to an adjustment Harper made with hitting coach John Mallee to stand taller and bring his hands further back. Early indications are promising.
“It’s a long year,” Harper said. “... I’ve got a great clubhouse in here, very supportive every single day. So, it’s been great. Even through the struggle, it’s been a lot of fun, coming here every single day, enjoying the ride. We’ve been winning ball games. That’s the main thing, and I’m happy about that.”
Nola recorded eight of his first 10 outs by strikeout before facing trouble in the fourth inning. The Rockies had runners on first and third with two outs, and Brendan Rodgers worked a full count. The Phillies had a two-run lead, and the margin for error was thin, but catcher J.T. Realmuto called for Nola’s curveball, knowing that a bad one would load the bases and a worse one could bring in a run. Nola flicked his catcher a perfect one, and Rodgers swung through it to end the inning.
“I have trust calling that pitch with him on the mound anytime, really,” Realmuto said. “He has a really good feel for it and knows when to throw it for a strike. I knew that he knew we were on the same page and wanted to throw one down in the zone, and we felt like we had a good chance to get a chase if he threw one down in the zone. He executed it to perfection, and that’s why I have so much faith in calling that pitch, because he executes it nine times out of 10.”
Nola struck out Rogers again for his 12th strikeout to end the sixth inning. Kapler found him in the dugout to see whether Nola had enough for one more inning. He nodded, but one more inning proved to be too much. The first two batters hit him hard, and the Rockies had a run. Nola’s day was finished. He retreated to the dugout and watched three relievers finish the job.