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Harper highlights sim game with massive HR

Eickhoff, recovering from setback, serves it up; Velasquez renewed
@ToddZolecki
March 6, 2019

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Bryce Harper crushed a first-pitch curveball from teammate Jerad Eickhoff on Wednesday, over the right-field wall, over the berm, over the walkway and over the chain-link fence, completely out of Spectrum Field. “Alright, you can stay around,” teammate Andrew McCutchen said nearby.

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Bryce Harper crushed a first-pitch curveball from teammate Jerad Eickhoff on Wednesday, over the right-field wall, over the berm, over the walkway and over the chain-link fence, completely out of Spectrum Field.

“Alright, you can stay around,” teammate Andrew McCutchen said nearby.

Harper and Eickhoff matched up in a soon-to-be-forgotten simulated game, but it was Harper’s latest step toward his Grapefruit League debut Saturday against the Blue Jays. Harper will be the Phillies’ designated hitter against the Jays. He said he expects two plate appearances Saturday in front of a sellout crowd.

“I felt good,” Harper said afterward. “Just getting out there, seeing pitches, seeing spin. It's the first day, so you want to see as many pitches as you can and try to get a barrel on a couple.”

Harper stepped into the batter’s box for his third of four plate appearances against Eickhoff. He sat first-pitch curveball.

Eickhoff threw one.

“I think had I thrown it low in the zone it would've been a little better,” Eickhoff said. “But I executed my pitch, throwing strike one with an offspeed pitch, so it was kind of a tip-your-cap kind of thing.”

Harper said he figures he needs 40-45 plate appearances in the Grapefruit League to be ready by Opening Day.

If he gets a little less, that should be OK, too.

Eickhoff is trying to catch up following a setback in January after carpal tunnel surgery in October.

“To get in the stadium was huge,” Eickhoff said. “And there was a little crowd out there, so you had a little more adrenaline than if there was nobody there. It was great. Getting good feedback from Bryce when we were done. What I did really well, what stuck out to him as far as stuff to see and all that stuff. So it was really positive.”

“What stood out to me most,” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said, “is the great, critical and intelligent feedback he had for Eickhoff. About how his slider was effective on the outside lane; when he elevated his fastball in, he found him to be effective. There’s not too many guys that can talk through all of our starting pitchers on our roster right now, that has very recent exposure and experience against those guys, so he’s got some great strategy tips. He’s not just an athletic, talented hitter. He’s an intelligent hitter as well.”

Harper went 2-for-12 with one double, one home run, three RBIs and six strikeouts in his career against Eickhoff, who seems likely to open the season in Triple-A, if he stays healthy. Eickhoff could be the team’s No. 1 option if a starter struggles or is injured.

That was the old Vince
Vince Velasquez
has a new delivery and a new number in 2019.

“A new Vince Velasquez,” he said after pitching one-plus innings in the Phillies' 9-7 loss to the Blue Jays at Dunedin Stadium on Wednesday. He allowed one home run and two walks. He struck out two.

Velasquez, 26, went 9-12 with a 4.85 ERA and 3.75 FIP in 31 appearances (30 starts) last season. He said he expects to take a significant step forward in his fourth season with the Phillies. One interesting change from last season is his delivery. He is moving his hands from his waist over his head in one fluid motion before coming to the plate, instead of starting at the belt, stopping at his face and dropping his hands back down again before throwing.

He also switched from No. 28 to No. 21.

“There was just a lot of movement from the beginning of the delivery,” Velasquez said. “It affected my finish, my release point. It was a lot of movement to deal with. This helps my hands get into slot a little quicker.”

And the number change? It’s a family number. Velasquez said he has a family photo at home with his father and two brothers. Everybody in the photo is wearing No. 21. Velasquez said he had the option of choosing No. 21 when he joined the Phillies in December 2015 following a trade with the Astros, but he chose No. 28 to try something different.

“It’s just a different approach, a change, a new beginning, a new beginning all the way around,” Velasquez said. “I would say I’m kind of like a new pitcher.”

Up next
The Phillies have a split-squad Thursday. Phillies right-hander Drew Anderson (1-0, 3.38 ERA) faces Yankees left-hander James Paxton (1-0, 2.25 ERA) on Thursday afternoon in Clearwater. Left-hander JoJo Romero (0-0, 1.80 ERA) faces Tigers left-hander Jordan Zimmermann (1-0, 1.80 ERA) in Lakeland.

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook .