PHILADELPHIA -- Bryce Harper smashed baseballs Wednesday night at Citizens Bank Park in part because he brought his lowest effort level into the batter’s box this season.
It sounds silly, but it is true.
Harper went 3-for-4 with one double, one home run and four RBIs in an 11-4 victory over the Cardinals, pushing the Phillies to a season-high 11 games over .500. He hit an opposite-field single and scored in the first inning before crushing a first-pitch slider from Cardinals rookie Genesis Cabrera to left-center field for a two-run home run in the third. He hit a ground ball into center field in the fourth inning, but he ran hard out of the box and never stopped until he surprised almost everybody with the 200th double of his career.
Harper has five hits in his last seven plate appearances and is batting .318 (14-for-44) with five doubles, three home runs, 13 RBIs and a 1.007 OPS in his last 11 games. Phillies manager Gabe Kapler asked hitting coach John Mallee during the game about one thing that stood out about Harper. Mallee replied, “It’s the lowest effort level that we’ve seen from him all year.”
Kapler explained: “When your effort level is low, your muscles fire fast. You see the ball longer. It’s a decision that hitters make.”
In other words, maybe Harper was trying too hard and swinging too hard, contributing to his slow start.
“I don’t want to get too much into it, just because I don’t want to think about it,” Harper said. “I’m just trying to relax up there, hit pitches that are in the zone. I want to answer your question, but I don’t want to think about it to tell you the truth.”
Harper might have carried a nice, easy swing to the plate Wednesday, but he showed maximum effort on the fourth-inning double. It should have been a single.
“It’s not something that you see every day, especially someone of his caliber,” Andrew McCutchen said. “A lot of people would be fine with just taking that single and a couple RBIs and calling it a day, but he’s busting it out of the box, getting to second base and keeping the inning going. Regardless of what the score is, he’s playing hard. That can hype a team up.”
“I’ve seen that since he came up in the big leagues,” Aaron Nola said. “It fires everybody up. I think it fires the fans up.”
Harper fouled a ball off his right foot in the fifth, but he remained in the game and lined out to Cardinals center fielder Harrison Bader. Harper said he is fine, and he left the game after that only because the Phillies held a 10-run lead at the time.
But Harper also had plenty of help on Wednesday in creating that large lead. Nola allowed four hits, one run and three walks in seven innings, striking out eight. Cesar Hernandez hit a two-run single in the first inning and is putting up better numbers than every other second baseman in the National League. If Hernandez keeps it up, he could make his first National League All-Star team.
It was a good night for Phillies fans who sat through a 1 hour, 39 minute rain delay, and it was especially good for Harper. He’s a streaky player, but if this is the beginning of a hot stretch, he could help the Phillies extend their 3 1/2-game lead over the Braves in the National League East.
“He’s squaring a lot of balls up. He’s going opposite field,” Nola said. “I mean, in the back of my mind I always thought he was going to turn it around pretty quick.”