PHILADELPHIA -- There might not be a Phillies player alive that has not heard a few boos from Philly fans.
Bryce Harper heard a few during Tuesday night’s 3-1 loss to the Tigers at Citizens Bank Park. He went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. A ball dropped among Harper, Cesar Hernandez and Rhys Hoskins in shallow right field to spark a three-run rally in the third inning. He dropped a fly ball for an error in the eighth.
“I’d do the same thing,” Harper said of the reaction from restless Phillies fans. “It’s not fun to lose, it’s not fun to watch when you’re playing that way. [I was] 0-for-4 with two punchies, I’m probably thinking the same thing walking back to the dugout.”
Phillies right-hander Vince Velasquez could not get through the fourth inning as the Tigers fouled off 30 pitches to run his pitch count to 99, before Gabe Kapler pulled him with two outs. Velasquez allowed a two-run home run to Niko Goodrum in the third, but the Phils mustered only four hits in the game, and only one hit after Hernandez’s one-out double to left field in the second.
But Harper has been struggling lately. He is batting .240 with eight doubles, six home runs, 20 RBIs and an .878 OPS this season, but in 22 games since April 6, he is batting .188 with three home runs, 15 RBIs and a .692 OPS.
Harper has struck out 29 times in 97 plate appearances over that stretch.
“I feel fine,” Harper said. “Just keep missing pitches. That's about it. Swing feels good, hands feel good. Just swinging at pitches out of the zone. Pretty much the same thing. Just trying to swing at a pitch over the plate and not miss it. If I can cut down on swinging on pitches out of the zone, get on base for the guys behind me, then I'll be successful.”
Interestingly, Harper is making less contact with pitches in the strike zone (71.2 percent) than his career average over the past five seasons (79.9 percent). His swings at pitches outside the strike zone (26.7 percent) are more in line with his career average (26.0 percent) over that stretch.
Is it possible that Harper is trying too hard? Kapler dismissed that suggestion last week, pointing out that Harper hit two home runs March 30-31 in the season-opening series against the Braves. If Harper felt pressure to perform, wouldn’t it have showed in that series?
“Nah,” Harper said about the chance he is pressing. “I mean, my work's the same every day. I feel good in the cage, feel good going about it each day. But like I said, can't miss pitches over the plate. I'm getting some pitches to hit over the plate. Got to be better.”
Kapler said there is no reason to worry. Everybody struggles.
"I don't think that baseball is meant to be evaluated in that short a period of time,” Kapler said. “There's going to be ups, there's going to be downs for even the best hitters in baseball. This is just a stretch that Bryce is struggling through.
"It wasn't Bryce's best game. I believe in Bryce with every ounce of my being. This is a guy that's going to win a lot of baseball games for us, already has won baseball games for us.”