Despite frustrations, two-hit night a positive sign for slumping Harper

April 13th, 2024

PHILADELPHIA -- hollered once, hollered twice, then slammed his helmet into the bullpen phone.

Anybody who watched his at-bats the past week understood.

Harper hit a sinking line drive to right field with runners on first and second and one out in the eighth inning of Friday night’s 5-2 loss to the Pirates at Citizens Bank Park. Pirates right fielder Bryan Reynolds made a diving catch, robbing Harper of a hit and getting a big out for Pirates left-hander Aroldis Chapman.

Harper couldn’t believe it. He had reached his boiling point. He returned to the dugout and released his frustrations.

“I just want to get a hit,” he said. “I want to be better. Right? I think whenever you hit a ball like that you’re always going to be frustrated if you get out. You guys know how I am. I’m pretty emotional with what I do. But, yeah, just frustrated I got out.”

Harper is batting .220 with three home runs, seven RBIs and a .764 OPS this season. It’s only 14 games, but he has high standards. He expects to be better.

He hit three home runs against the Reds in cold, rainy and windy conditions on April 2 at the Bank. It was a fun night. It could have been a starting point, but it wasn’t. He hit just .194 in his next eight games. He tried to improve his fortunes on Monday in St. Louis, wearing the red gaiter he wore in that awful weather on April 2.

It was 76 degrees at first pitch at Busch Stadium.

“Obviously, in St. Louis I didn’t do a very good job,” Harper said. “When your three-hole hitter isn’t really doing his job, it’s tough to win.”

Harper went 0-for-11 in St. Louis. He hit three balls at more than 100 mph, although two were on the ground. All three were outs.

“He was in as good a spot as I’ve seen him in a long time,” Phillies hitting coach Kevin Long said before Friday’s game. “And then a couple of those balls that he hit hard in St. Louis got caught and he unraveled a bit. But he’s going to be fine.”

Harper entered Friday’s game hitless in his last 18 at-bats. It was his longest slump since a 0-for-19 skid from Sept. 1-5 of last year. Harper can carry a team when he is hot, but his struggles have coincided with others in the lineup.

But Harper ripped a single to right field in the first inning against Pirates left-hander Bailey Falter at 108.9 mph. It was his first hit since the first inning on Sunday in Washington.

He crushed a fly ball to deep center field in the fourth. It was one of the best balls he hit this season, leaving his bat at 104.3 mph. It had an expected batting average of .660, but Pirates center fielder Michael A. Taylor settled underneath it, catching it a foot in front of the fence.

Harper took a long look back at center field before he returned to the dugout.

“April in Philly,” Harper said. “It’s pretty tough. But I thought I definitely hit it well enough.”

Harper hit an opposite-field double with two outs in the sixth. But if that ball in the eighth fell for a hit -- it had an expected batting average of .670 -- it would have loaded the bases with one out.

Who knows what might have happened after that?

“The name of the game is getting hits,” Harper said. “I’m just trying to go up there, get the hits and have good at-bats. Obviously, you guys know if I’m swinging at pitches out of the zone I’m going to get out. If I don’t, I let the game come to me. I’ve just got to stay the course and just have better at-bats each day.”

The at-bats Friday were good. He thought he should have had four hits. He had two. His helmet and the phone paid the price.

“He’s frustrated,” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said. “Harp gets that way sometimes. He wants to perform and he wants to do well. He wants to help his team.”