Bryce Harper smacks 3-run homer as Phillies beat Giants for fifth straight win

Philadelphia Phillies

Six weeks into the season, ESPN brought its national baseball showcase to Philadelphia, and well, what did you expect?

Sunday Night Bryceball, naturally.

Bryce Harper is off to an uneven start, by his standards. But teammates don’t call him “The Showman” for no reason. On cue, then, he smashed a three-run homer against Giants ace Logan Webb to propel the Phillies to a 5-4 victory before 41,058 paying customers at Citizens Bank Park — and a national television audience.

» READ MORE: Homegrown Phillies Alec Bohm and Ranger Suárez don’t want to go anywhere. Here’s the extension case for each.

“I think we had a pretty good plan against Webb,” Harper said after the Phillies’ fifth consecutive victory — and 16th in 19 games. “He’s really good out there, trying to keep the ball down and getting the ground balls. Collectively, as an offense, we just had a really good plan.”

After months of stressing the importance of starting more quickly, the Phillies are in a full-out sprint. At 24-11, they have the best record in baseball, 2½ games ahead of the rival Braves in the National League East.

It’s the Phillies’ best 35-game start since 1995, one game better than even the 102-win 2011 club. For the second time in less than a week, they won despite striking out 17 times in a game. They won even though Taijuan Walker allowed a homer for a second start in a row after manager Rob Thomson stuck with him in the seventh inning.

They’re winning at an 111-win pace.

And Harper isn’t even rolling yet.

“Just the awareness of the last couple years, not really getting hot until June, just sort of motivates people,” Thomson said. “I think our guys have done a really good job.

“Now, it’s not how you start. It’s how you finish.”

Indeed, the Phillies overcame 21-29 and 25-32 starts in 2022 and 2023, respectively, to make long postseason runs as a wild-card entry. They expect to play deep into October again. Nothing is won in May.

But by banking victories now, largely on the back of lights-out starting pitching, the Phillies know they can make things easier later.

“We’ve got to be consistent throughout the whole season, not just April, May, August, September, whatever,” Harper said. “We have to ride that wave and understand we’re going to go through ebbs and flows of the season, but just stay the course and play good baseball. I think we’re doing that right now.”

» READ MORE: Bryce Harper vs. Mike Trout, 12 years in: What drives them to be great, and will they ever join forces?

Here’s what that looks like: The Phillies forced Webb, the NL Cy Young runner-up last season, to throw 28 pitches in the second inning, 31 in the third, and 24 in the fourth. They took a 5-1 lead before knocking him from the game.

The big third inning began with Kyle Schwarber fouling off a tough full-count changeup and working a seven-pitch walk. After J.T. Realmuto singled for the first of his three hits out of injured Trea Turner’s No. 2 spot in the order, Harper took center stage.

Harper entered with six homers, three of which came on April 2 against the Reds. He was batting .234 with an .820 OPS and was still searching for his optimal timing after missing a week late in spring training when his back flared up.

But Harper left little doubt when he teed off on a changeup from Webb. He watched as the ball flew to deep right-center field. It landed in the edge of the bleachers before falling into the Phillies’ bullpen.

“He’s hitting balls hard every night. Just hasn’t had a whole lot of luck,” Thomson said. “But I still think he’s having good at-bats. When he gets hot, it’s going to be real hot.”

As the Phillies wait, they continue to be carried by starting pitching.

When Walker injured his shoulder on the last weekend of spring training, Spencer Turnbull stepped in and posted a 1.67 ERA in six starts. Turnbull was back in the bullpen, relegated to multi-inning relief, as Walker made his second start and gave up two barreled balls in the first inning: a one-out single to LaMonte Wade and an RBI double to Michael Conforto, both of which registered 105 mph exit velocities.

» READ MORE: Is the Phillies’ dominant starting pitching sustainable all season? Their catcher thinks so.

But Walker yielded one hit — and three baserunners — in the next five innings. Never mind that he still didn’t recover his peak velocity (his four-seam fastball maxed out at 92.4 mph) and had less separation between his heater and signature splitter. He controlled the splitter better than in his previous start in San Diego.

“I threw a lot of four-seams at 91-92, whatever it was, but I was getting swings-and-misses, getting pop-ups and stuff,” Walker said. “Obviously velo’s not there, but it’s all about location, I think, and just really pitching, mixing it up.”

Thomson left Walker in for the seventh inning in San Diego, and he gave up a three-run homer. With Walker at 77 pitches through six innings, he stuck with him again. This time, he allowed a two-run shot to Thairo Estrada.

Would Thomson consider capping Walker at six innings next time?

“No,” he said. “It just depends on what I’m seeing. I mean, he was pretty efficient. His pitch count was in pretty good shape.”

So are the Phillies, for a change, early in the season. Not even Jakson Reetz’s first major-league homer, a one-out solo shot against José Alvarado that cut the margin to one run in the ninth inning on Sunday Night Bryceball, caused their collective stress level to rise.

“Our starting pitching, every time they go out, they’ve been absolutely lights out,” Harper said. “Whenever you have that, the ability to win is way higher. Right? On a nightly basis, a lot of guys are going out there and just playing really good baseball as a group, just collectively.”

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *