New look, new stance for Harper in Phillies' win
Outfielder collects pair of hits to back Velasquez's 7 strong innings
PHOENIX -- Bryce Harper brought two new looks to the plate Monday night at Chase Field, while Vince Velasquez's latest look appears to have tightened up his performance on the mound.
Look good, feel good, play good.
The duo helped the Phillies beat the D-backs, 7-3. The Phils and Nationals moved into a tie for the two National League Wild Card spots, following the Cardinals’ loss to the Dodgers. Yes, the Phillies, who just lost two of three to the White Sox at Citizens Bank Park, are more than just alive in the postseason hunt.
“We’re never out of it,” Harper said. “We lost some close ones, and we’ve gotten blown out. We’ve got two months left. We’ve just got to keep winning games and not worry about anybody behind us.”
Harper trimmed the beard he had sported since he signed with the Phillies in February, but more importantly, he changed his stance at the plate, holding his bat almost completely upright, rather than having it nearly draped over his left shoulder. It was a noticeable adjustment from Harper, who has been struggling at the plate lately.
“I just felt like doing it,” Harper said. “Yeah, it just feels good, so I just went with it.”
Wait, so there was no methodology behind it? You weren’t trying to get quicker to the ball or anything?
“Not really,” Harper said. “I did it in my last round in [batting practice], and it felt good, so I did it in the game.”
And the beard?
“Long hair, short beard; short hair, long beard,” Harper explained.
Harper flied out to the warning track in left-center field in the first inning. The ball left his bat at 102.6 mph and had an expected batting average of .560, according to Statcast. Harper thinks the ball might have been a home run a few years ago, before the D-backs started to use a humidor to store their baseballs. But he then ripped a single to right field in the third to put runners on first and second with one out. He later scored on a Jean Segura single that gave the Phillies a 3-1 lead.
Harper grounded out in the fifth, but he reached on a check-swing single in the seventh. Cesar Hernandez moved into scoring position on the hit, then scored on a Segura single that made it 5-2.
Harper entered the game batting .248 with 19 home runs, 73 RBIs and an .835 OPS, but he was hitting .140 with a .688 OPS over his 12 previous games. If he can get things going and get on a run of sustained success, it would be a boon for a lineup that has mostly underperformed this season, particularly of late.
Will Harper keep the stance Tuesday?
“I don’t know,” Harper said. “We’ll see what happens.”
Velasquez returned to the mound after showing off his high-powered arm and range from left field in the 14th and 15th innings in Friday's loss to the White Sox. He allowed two runs in seven innings in a strong outing against the D-backs.
Velasquez had runners on first and second with no outs in the fifth, when D-backs pitcher Merrill Kelly bunted a ball directly to him. Velasquez fired a throw to third base to get the lead runner. Scott Kingery then threw to first to complete a rally-killing double play.
It was the first time Velasquez pitched seven innings in a game since July 22, 2018, against San Diego. He is 2-1 with a 2.04 ERA over his last three starts.
“I’m a pitcher,” Velasquez said. “I made the pitches that I needed and got the ground balls that I needed. I got out of those jam situations. I helped myself. Did I prove something? Yeah, I did. It shows that I can do it, and that I can go deep into games. I can build on this.”
Velasquez has been sporting a different look recently, too. He said some friends back home in California suggested that he try more tapered uniform pants, which he has worn in each of his last two starts.
Guess the European cut is working.
“It’s just a different look,” Velasquez said, smiling.
Look good, feel good, play good. Phillies outfielder Andrew McCutchen said something similar in April following a big night against the Marlins, which happened to come hours after getting a new haircut.
“I had the look-good, feel-good part down," McCutchen said at the time. "So, I just needed to play good, and I got that one out of the way, too."
The Phillies played good Monday, which was important as they opened this seven-game road trip.