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Kapler mixes up lineup to jumpstart Harper

@paul_casella
May 17, 2019

PHILADELPHIA -- One day after switching back and forth between using and not using batting gloves, Phillies slugger Bryce Harper got another new look in Thursday's series finale, an 11-3 loss to the Brewers. Harper batted second in the lineup for the first time this season, something that manager Gabe

PHILADELPHIA -- One day after switching back and forth between using and not using batting gloves, Phillies slugger Bryce Harper got another new look in Thursday's series finale, an 11-3 loss to the Brewers.

Harper batted second in the lineup for the first time this season, something that manager Gabe Kapler hopes will jumpstart the slugger's bat. Though Kapler admitted it's possible Harper will end up back in the three hole in the "next couple days," the skipper said he wanted to see how the new-look lineup would play out before committing to a set plan going forward.

Harper finished the day 1-for-4, with a fifth-inning single. He also scored in the third inning after initially reaching on a fielder's choice.

Harper hit in the three hole in each of the club's first 42 games, but that spot was occupied by Jean Segura -- typically the No. 2 hitter -- on Thursday. Since his career-best five-hit game in Colorado on April 19, Harper went just 12-for-79 (.152) with three home runs, 32 strikeouts and 16 walks in 23 games coming into Thursday. He's had only one multi-hit effort during that span, compared to 12 multi-strikeout games.

"He profiles well in that [two spot], right?," Kapler said. "Get on base and hit home runs. ... I certainly think he’s a good fit for just about anywhere at the top of the lineup."

Elsewhere in the batting order, Cesar Hernandez hit fifth for the first time this season on Thursday. Hernandez has put up a .349/.421/.538 slash line with four home runs and a pair of stolen bases since April 14, after hitting just .178/.240/.244 over his first 12 games this season.

The lineup changes come after the Phillies managed just three runs and three extra-base hits over the last two games. Philadelphia is 6-4 in its last 10 games, with the offense managing just four combined runs in those four losses, while averaging 7.1 runs per game in the six wins.

"We really just wanted to provide a spark to the offense," Kapler said. "We’ve had some successes, we’ve had some dry spells. We just want to give ourselves an opportunity to click on all cylinders. It just kind of made sense to shake it up a little bit, and give guys a fresh perspective and a new look."

Though it'll be a new look for Harper this season, he's not unfamiliar with hitting second. He was used primarily in that role during his 2012 rookie season with the Nationals, during which he hit .270/.337/.478 with 20 homers, 20 doubles and nine triples in 117 games out of the two spot. He's hit second just 61 times since, however, though 26 of those games came last season.

"The best hitters in baseball have prolonged stretches of struggles," Kapler said. "When you’re Bryce Harper, the spotlight is especially bright, but … he’s especially equipped to handle this. His strength is unique in that way. The spotlight has never bothered him. The criticism has never bothered him."

Kapler saw some encouraging signs from Harper on Wednesday night, starting with his first-inning fly out to the warning track in left-center field. That ball had an exit velocity of 105.9 mph, according to Statcast. He then scorched a 109.1 mph line drive to the gap in left-center for a double in his next at-bat.

Harper also made a sliding catch in right field on Wednesday, his fourth diving or sliding grab in the last three games.

"What we’ve seen, which is really unusual, is that [his slump] has not impacted the other parts of his game," Kapler said. "In fact, it might be elevating the other parts of his game. He’s just been a whole lot better [defensively] than he was last year, big improvements. And very clearly sacrificing his body for what’s best for the Phillies.

"You can’t ask for anything more. He’s going to come out of the struggle. He’s going to produce for us in whatever lineup spot we put him in."

Paul Casella is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter @paul_casella.