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Harper after 2 homers: 'We've got to keep going'

@ToddZolecki
March 4, 2020

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Bryce Harper knows he needs to be better and the Phillies' offense needs to be better to win in 2020. Harper hit two home runs Wednesday afternoon in a 9-7 victory over the Pirates at Spectrum Field. J.T. Realmuto hit a leadoff home run in the first

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Bryce Harper knows he needs to be better and the Phillies' offense needs to be better to win in 2020.

Harper hit two home runs Wednesday afternoon in a 9-7 victory over the Pirates at Spectrum Field. J.T. Realmuto hit a leadoff home run in the first inning. Harper and Realmuto will be hitting somewhere near the top of the lineup this season.

Philadelphia manager Joe Girardi said Monday that he sees Harper hitting second or third. Realmuto, meanwhile, hit leadoff a couple times this week, although some of that is getting Realmuto his at-bats as quickly as possible so that he does not need to catch as long in the spring.

But a day like Wednesday can make anybody think a little bit more about the Phillies’ untapped potential at the plate. They ranked eighth in the National League last season in scoring (774 runs). They also ranked 11th in on-base percentage (.319) and ninth in slugging percentage (.427). A lineup that includes Harper, Realmuto, Rhys Hoskins, Didi Gregorius, Jean Segura, Scott Kingery and some combination of Andrew McCutchen and Jay Bruce should be better than that this year.

“As a team, we’ve got to keep going, we’ve got to keep building -- get better,” Harper said. “And not just say get better, but really be better, myself included.”

Pivetta likes his stuff
Phillies right-hander Nick Pivetta allowed three runs in 3 1/3 innings Wednesday night against the Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa. He faced eight batters in the first, although shortstop Ronald Torreyes could not catch a hard-hit ball and third baseman Josh Harrison committed an error, extending the inning.

Pivetta retired nine of the final 11 batters he faced.

“I feel like I bounced back in the next two innings really, really well,” Pivetta said.

Pivetta has allowed seven runs in 7 1/3 innings this spring, but Grapefruit League results can be misleading. He very much remains in the mix with Vince Velasquez and Ranger Suárez to be the team’s No. 5 starter, although Pivetta and Velasquez are considered the front runners.

“I evaluate myself on my stuff,” Pivetta said, when asked about his spring. “I feel like I commanded all my pitches really, really well tonight. That’s my main focus, if I’m commanding all four pitches. I’m just trying to get myself ready for the season as a four-pitch pitcher and that’s my biggest focus.”

Phillies right-hander Aaron Nola allowed two runs in four innings in the afternoon against the Pirates.

“I felt good out there today,” said Nola. “I had a couple balls into the air for a couple doubles, but other than that I felt good. I got some ground balls, some off-speed pitches and fastball command felt pretty good there today.”

Hunter keeps his hopes
Right-hander Tommy Hunter is not changing his mindset, even though Girardi said a few days ago that the pitcher will not be ready by Opening Day.

Hunter is recovering from surgery to repair the flexor tendon in his right arm. He is throwing off a mound every three days, but he has not faced live batters. He said he does not know when he will pitch in a Grapefruit League game, either.

“I’m not counting myself out for anything,” Hunter said. “But optimistic and realistic things are totally different. We’ll see how the next month goes and see what happens.”

Right-hander Vìctor Arano also is recovering from right elbow surgery. He has not appeared in a game this spring, but the Phillies seem to be more optimistic that he can be ready Opening Day. If Hunter and Arano are not, the Phils have two more jobs available in the bullpen. Héctor Neris, Seranthony Domínguez, José Álvarez, Adam Morgan, Suárez and the runner-up for the final rotation spot (Velasquez or Pivetta) are good bets to make the bullpen. That leaves two vacancies. Left-hander Francisco Liriano is a non-roster invitee, but he has the inside track for a job. The eighth and final spot is wide open.

Up next
Phillies right-hander Zack Wheeler (0-0, 9.00 ERA) makes his second Grapefruit League start on Thursday afternoon against the Blue Jays at Spectrum Field. Wheeler made his Phillies debut last week against the Blue Jays in Dunedin. The Phillies signed Wheeler to a five-year, $118 million contract in December. He'll face right-hander Tanner Roark, with first pitch set for 1:05 p.m. ET.

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