LOS ANGELES — Bryce Harper’s highly anticipated return to the Phillies’ roster didn’t produce the results he or the team would have hoped for on Day 1, but it’s a long game, not a a game at Dodger Stadium when the offense was shut down by a left-handed stud and a position player was needed to save the playoff due to a late bullpen collapse.
Harper went 0 for 4 and struck three times in his first game since undergoing Tommy John surgery 160 days ago. It was a quick comeback that didn’t include a minor league rehab assignment and Harper warned he might not be himself for a little while.
He saw 16 pitches in his four plate appearances and hit seven. He went after the first pitch all four times.
“I feel like my timing is pretty good, but it’s just pitching selection for me right now,” Harper said after the Phillies’ 13-1 loss. “I had some really good pitches to hit on my second at bat and that last one at bat as well, a slider and a radiator that I should have had better swings on. Dump that today and come back tomorrow. My swing feels good. I just have to go in there and realize it’s gonna take me a minute.”
Harper was feeling good physically after the game and will be back in the lineup Wednesday afternoon. He’s going to play every day because the DH and Phillies schedule is conducive to that kind of workload as they’re out four of the next 15 days.
Going up against Julio Urias, one of the best left-handers in all of baseball, is no easy task for a player on a hot streak, let alone one who hasn’t played in a live game in six months. But Harper was not interested in waiting another day. He was eager to come back, tough game or not.
“I don’t really have good numbers against him and he threw the ball pretty well tonight,” Harper said of Urias, who struck out 10 in seven innings and allowed just one. for sure, a solo circuit at Trea Turner.
“I thought his fastball was faster than it’s been the last two starts. That’s the big leagues, right? Against guys like that.”
This was Harper’s first experience with the pitch clock. The Phillies used it in their mock batting game against Ranger Suarez, Nick Nelson and their farm system pitchers, but it’s quite different under Dodger Stadium lights against a team stacked in the playoffs.
“I think the most important thing is that our whole life we’ve been told to slow down the game,” he said. “It’s going to be an adjustment for me, but that’s what it is at this stage. The game is going to be at a faster pace.”
The Phillies were outscored 26-5 in the first two games of this series and are 2-3 on a tough road trip through Houston and Los Angeles. They can make a .500 trip on Wednesday, a result most teams would take against the Astros and Dodgers.
As the Dodgers scored their final five points against Yunior Marte and infielder Kody Clemens, they also hit key Phillies staff pitchers. Matt Strahm and Taijuan Walker had their worst starts of the season on Monday and Tuesday. Gregory Soto allowed four runs while recording two outs after allowing a hit to just one of the previous 36 batters he had faced. Craig Kimbrel also struggled on Monday.
“It’s not big at all,” manager Rob Thomson said of the talent gap between the two clubs. “I thought we were right in the game (behind 4-1) until the seventh, and Soto had a bad night. He threw really, really well. Marte, it’s the first time he’s come back back to back and we were trying to get through without using anyone else I think he was tired, on the fumes.
“We just have to come back tomorrow and share the road trip.”
Thomson liked the batting speed he saw from Harper, but acknowledged that recognition for broken balls won’t come immediately.
“You just have to fight and that’s what he does,” he said. “It shouldn’t be long before he finds out. He’s had 45 or 50 at-bats in simulations, so I don’t expect it to take long.”
Harper struggled last season when he returned from thumb surgery. He missed two months, came back, and hit .227 with a .676 OPS the rest of the way until he returned to MVP form in the playoffs.
It’s a work in progress, but there’s no denying Harper’s presence has a huge impact on the Phillies’ roster. His bat essentially replaces that of Clemens or Jake Cave, who were bottom of the order. The walks will come, the hits will come, the home runs will come, and Tuesday night could end up being the Phillies’ ugliest game of the season.
“You never get excited about what just happened,” Harper said. “You don’t want that to happen. I want the results to be better. Certainly, I’m delighted to be back. After six months of hard work and being able to come back today, I was extremely excited. Now , we start a season, playing as many matches as possible.
“I just have to keep going, keep tuning in. It’s going to balance out and get better, it’s just going to take a little while.”