Bryce Harper finally hit a ball out of the park after enduring a three-week homerless drought.
The sound of a home run coming off the bat never sounded so sweet to Bryce Harper.
Harper snapped an 18-game home run drought, his longest since 2014, with an opposite-field blast off Miami Marlins starter Jose Urena in the third inning at Marlins Park on Saturday. The home run, measured at 375 feet, gave the Philadelphia Phillies a 5-0 lead and was his eighth home run of the season.
Bryce Harper and the Phillies hope this home run will ignite the high-priced slugger
He was stuck on seven homers for what must have been a frustrating stretch for one of the premier sluggers in the league. Harper’s last home run came exactly three weeks ago off Robbie Erlin of the Braves on Aug. 22. He didn’t have an RBI in 13 straight games dating back to Aug. 29, the longest streak of his career. Since his last home run, Harper was hitting just .136 with two extra-base hits in 78 plate appearances. Only Bryan Reynolds of the Pirates has a lower batting average than Harper over the last three weeks; the Twins’ Marwin Gonzalez is the only hitter with a lower slugging percentage than Harper’s .170.
What made the drought so mystifying was the blistering pace Harper was on at the beginning of the season. Harper hit .343 with seven home runs in his first 22 games. His 1.192 OPS over that span led the league; since then, he’s 159th out of 168 qualified batters. His .714 slugging percentage was second-best in the Majors behind Luke Voit of the Yankees.
Since then, Harper has made the slow trudge back to the Phillies dugout after another hitless at-bat more times than he would like. Phillies hitting coach Joe Dillon was tasked with the job of finding out what ailed his struggling slugger and believes it came down to his ultra-competitive nature.
“He’s so competitive and wants to help out so bad that I think he pushes the issue, tries to do too much and expands the strike zone,” Dillon said before Saturday’s game, according to Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports. “I don’t care how talented you are, when you’re swinging at balls in this league you’re not going to be very successful and I think that’s what we’ve seen from Bryce recently.”
His struggles come with a certain bit of contradiction. The fortunes of the Phillies lineup has gone in the opposite direction than Harper. When he was hitting home runs at the beginning of the year, the Phillies went 9-14, the second-worst record in the National League. With Harper floundering, the Phillies have the second-best record in the NL at 13-6. Currently 22-20 on the season, the Phillies are in second place in the NL East, 2.5 games behind the Braves.
The rest of the Phillies have picked up Harper’s production. They have 28 home runs since Aug. 23, fourth-most in the Majors. Their 104 runs scored is the fifth-best mark in the league. Ten different Phillies have hit a home run since Harper last did, led by nine from Rhys Hoskins.
Still, if the Phillies hope to play well into October, they need more out of their former MVP. It was just one home run he hit on Saturday, but for him and the Phillies, it was a sight that was a long time coming.