PHILADELPHIA -- One day after Bryce Harper was bumped up to second in the lineup in an attempt to provide a "spark," the slugger was back in his usual No. 3 spot for Friday's series opener against the Rockies at Citizens Bank Park.
Harper responded by going 1-for-4 with a crucial two-run double and two strikeouts in a 5-4 win. With the Phillies leading 3-2, Harper lined a shot to right-center field that jumped off his bat at 102.9 mph, according to Statcast, making it his fifth batted ball with an exit velocity of at least 100 mph in the last three games.
The move had nothing to do with Harper's performance in the two spot -- he went 1-for-4 with three hard-hit balls, according to Statcast -- but instead the structure of the Phillies' lineup. The decision came down to not wanting to have Jean Segura, Rhys Hoskins and J.T. Realmuto -- all right-handed hitters -- hitting one after another in the middle of the lineup. Realmuto was not in Thursday's lineup when Harper batted second.
"I just didn’t love the look of Segura, Hos, J.T., and an opposing strategy being, ‘I’m going to get my best reliever for that moment of the game,’" Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said. "I know Harper’s comfortable in the position in the lineup he’s in today, and I know Segura is comfortable in the two spot, so it felt like it was the right strategy here."
While that may seem obvious, the decision was made slightly more difficult by the fact that both Hoskins and Realmuto have displayed some reverse-split tendencies throughout their careers.
Hoskins entered Friday with a career .268/.368/.566 hitting line against righties, compared to just .199/.375/.408 against lefties. Though not as pronounced, Realmuto had a .287/.334/.446 line versus right-handers, and a .250/.308/.422 mark against southpaws.
Kapler acknowledged and considered those splits while contemplating the decision, but ultimately felt better about using Harper's left-handed bat to break up that potential string of right-handers.
"It doesn’t make it any more difficult for the opposing manager anyhow, because are they going to say, ‘Would I rather have an inferior lefty or a superior righty?’” Kapler said. "Most clubs have a guy at the back of their bullpen, or a few guys, who can go through right-handed hitters -- even right-handed hitters with reverse splits.”
Kapler reveals promised 'action steps'
Following a third straight loss to the Brewers on Thursday, Kapler said that it was the type of series that would require changes to be made. He followed through on that promise prior to Friday's series opener against the Rockies, unveiling a few adjustments in his club's approach.
For starters, Kapler said the Phillies will be "more deliberate" in holding runners at second base. That comes after they allowed two steals of third base in their four-game series against Milwaukee, including an uncontested double steal on Monday in which Christian Yelich swiped second and Lorenzo Cain swiped third.
It's not just about those stolen bases. The Phillies also want to make opposing baserunners slightly less comfortable, whether it's by shortening up their leads or slowing down their jumps -- especially once they get into scoring position.
"We have to be aware, and putting on plays, and ensuring that baserunners know we are thinking about them," Kapler said. "One thing, as a manager, I think about is watching the infielders for the opposition when our guys are in scoring position, and how much attention they’re paying to our baserunners."
The Brewers' two steals of third were the only ones allowed this season by a Phillies team that has thrown out 55 percent of attempted basestealers overall, best in the National League and second only to the Orioles in the Majors.
Among the other areas to receive immediate attention, Andrew McCutchen was among some of the Phillies' hitters out early on Friday to take extra cuts against curveballs from a pitching machine prior to regular batting practice.
"Those are a couple things -- and they’re just a few examples of conversations that have gone on over the last 12-plus hours," Kapler said. "Those will continue as we get into this Colorado series."
News and notes
• Scott Kingery played a full nine innings at second base with Double-A Reading on Thursday, and is expected to split time between third base and center field while playing another nine innings on Friday. The club wants Kingery to get more reps at various defensive positions before being activated.