LOS ANGELES — There’s no doubt that MLB’s new pace of play rules in 2023 have sped up games and created more action, but some situations require nuance.
In the ninth inning Wednesday afternoon at Dodger Stadium, Bryce Harper scored a two-out single. Harper, who returned Tuesday after undergoing Tommy John surgery in late November, will wear a large brace on his right arm when he hits the grassroots trails this season.
The problem was that he didn’t have enough time to brace after reaching base in the ninth. He had less than 25 seconds to try and put it before the next pitch went to Nick Castellanos. He ended up sliding into the plate on Bryson Stott’s simple equalizer and luckily was able to do it with his right arm above the ground.
Pretty dangerous. If Harper were to slide the wrong way or collide with a defender, he risks breaking his surgically repaired elbow.
“He didn’t have time to put his guard up in the ninth inning and that scared me a little bit,” manager Rob Thomson said after the Phillies left in a 10-6 loss.
“Really, they should change the rule to some extent so that a superstar or anyone who has a problem with guards or whatever, just gives them more time. Have an idea so they don’t hurt them.
“He didn’t have time. Casty had to call a timeout, he saw him struggling and Harper still didn’t have time to do it, he had to throw him (the coach of the first goal Paco Figueroa).
“Do you want to waste a minute to keep a superstar in the game?”
Harper said he and the Phillies took the matter to commissioner Rob Manfred, but was told he wouldn’t have more time to put on the brace. The rationale is likely that it would be a slippery slope, but it creates an impractical scenario for a player in Harper’s position.
“The pace of play, of course,” he said. “It’s going to be difficult in these situations, you have what, 22 seconds to start? I hope some referees have an idea about that. Some referees usually do, so I appreciate that from them. But we’ll see. I know they will try to give me more time, but if they don’t, I won’t be able to do it and move it forward.
After going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and throwing seven of 16 pitches he saw on Tuesday in his season debut, Harper hit base all five times Wednesday. He doubled, singled twice and walked twice. The ninth-inning double and single were in the opposite field.
Harper was happy with his timing at the plate in his first game, but not his pitch selection. It was much better in Game 2.
“I just slow down,” he said. “Yesterday it picked up speed a bit, I was just rocking. Today I was more in control. Any time you get a little fired up at the start of a season, it’s going to happen.
“On a personal level, I felt good, just getting out there and calming down a bit,” he said. “The choice of pitches is huge. My dad says when I walk it’s pretty good. I just have to keep it going, keep it going.”
At the team level, Harper was not happy. The Phillies played poor defense, went scoreless for five innings after building a five-run lead, Aaron Nola couldn’t protect a big advantage, and the bullpen suffered another loss.
“There were mistakes made today and mistakes made over the past two weeks that we just need to correct, myself included,” he said.
“Just everything, as a team, as a whole – catching the ball, throwing the ball, hitting the ball, making the plays. When you play the game the right way, play it right, you win a lot of games.”
Pitching has become a problem. The Phillies left Los Angeles with the worst ERA in the National League (5.13). Almost every Phillie who pitched at Dodger Stadium this week — Taijuan Walker, Matt Strahm, Nola, Craig Kimbrel, Gregory Soto, Jose Alvarado, Luis Ortiz, Yunior Marte — struggled in some form or another.
The only good news other than Harper’s return was that Ranger Suarez could be back in rotation by the end of next week. Suarez made his second start in rehab on Tuesday and will make his next Sunday, going 70-75 in shots. If all goes well, the Phillies could activate him in time for his next start, Thomson said Wednesday morning.