After a ho-hum start to the season, the Philadelphia Phillies suddenly are experiencing the feel-good vibes that marked their second half of 2022 that led all the way to the World Series.
Not long after the season ended two victories away from a championship, Bryce Harper underwent Tommy John surgery. And while the expectation was that he would make a far quicker return than a pitcher would, his debut date was uncertain.
That time is now as Harper is set to play in Philadelphia’s road game against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday.
“I really tried to do everything I could to get to this point,” Harper said from the visitors’ dugout at Dodger Stadium on Monday. “It’s been a grind, coming in each day on the field or in (the trainer’s room). (It was) just understanding my body and how I feel and where I can push myself mentally and physically.”
Harper is coming off a season when he batted .286 with an .877 OPS, 18 home runs and 65 RBIs. And while he was an All-Star a year ago, the numbers were well below those of his MVP season in 2021, when he batted .309 with a 1.044 OPS, 35 home runs and 84 RBIs.
After a 13-4 loss to the Dodgers in the opener of a three-game series, the Phillies are 15-15. The mark is only that good because of a 7-1 run that ended with a defeat on Sunday. However, they were 21-29 entering June last season before they came alive.
To open what feels like a second chance to start the season, Philadelphia will send left-hander Matt Strahm (2-2, 2.31 ERA) to the mound. In his two wins, Strahm did not give up a run, including Thursday against the Seattle Mariners, when he went 5 1/3 innings.
In 13 career appearances against the Dodgers (two starts), he is 0-1 with a 1.35 ERA over 20 innings. All of those appearances came between 2018-20 when Strahm was a member of the San Diego Padres.
The Dodgers will counter with left-hander Julio Urias (3-3, 4.41 ERA), who has looked nothing like the pitcher who won the National League ERA title last season with a 2.16 mark. Urias has given up a total of 11 runs over his past two starts, resulting in losses to the Chicago Cubs and the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“I have to pitch better,” Urias said after his Thursday start against Pittsburgh. “That’s what I have to do.”
That’s not all, actually. He also has to pay better attention to baserunners. The Pirates stole three bases in a three-run first inning, and they went on to put up six runs on seven hits in 5 2/3 innings vs. Urias.
“I feel like I’m too inconsistent right now and I’m paying the price,” said Urias, who is 3-1 with a 3.42 ERA lifetime against the Phillies in six appearances (four starts).
The Dodgers’ offense has started to emerge. In the first four games of the current homestand, which started with a three-game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles averaged 6.8 runs.
Will Smith, David Peralta, Jason Heyward and Mookie Betts hit home runs on Monday as the Dodgers extended their season-best winning streak to four games.
–Field Level Media