LOS ANGELES — There might not be anyone more thankful that Bryce Harper will receive a platelet-rich plasma injection in his right elbow Sunday to address a tear in his ulnar collateral ligament than the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“I’m very happy he won’t be in there tomorrow,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said Saturday night.
At the very least, it will allow them some relief from the damage Harper inflicted upon them seemingly with every swing at Dodger Stadium this weekend. For three nights — and three Dodgers losses, including 8-3 on Saturday — Harper’s domain was the left-handed batter’s box, with just about every swing leading to a scorched baseball and even the mishits dropping for extra bases. The reigning MVP was once a Dodgers free-agent target, with Los Angeles making a late push as Harper’s market dragged into spring training in 2019 and aimed at paying him at the highest rate of any position player in big-league history, albeit over an abbreviated number of years — four.
This is Harper’s fourth year in Philadelphia. The wins haven’t come. But the production has, with Harper elevating his offensive profile in a Phillies uniform after his years in Washington and again tapping into the dynamic MVP-level form that fit his bodacious prospect billing. The supreme talent in his left-handed swing can terrorize opposing pitching staffs, just as he has to the tune of eight hits in the last three nights (plus two walks), all but one going for extra bases and three soaring well over the fence and hushing the home crowd.
In the 60-year history of Dodger Stadium, no visiting player had ever mashed multiple extra-base hits and a homer in three consecutive games. That is, until Harper, who took the ballpark he debuted in back in 2012 and turned it into his playground for three nights.
“Feels like he’s the best player in the world,” said Trea Turner, Harper’s former teammate in Washington. “I watched him for years over there (in Washington). But since he’s been over in Philly the last few years, you feel like he has a bad year and then you look up and his numbers, he’s got a .900 OPS and he’s hitting really well. And then years where he’s playing really well and he wins the MVP. It’s kind of crazy.
“The numbers he can put up offensively are really special. He’s one of a kind. That’s why he won the MVP last year and that’s why he’s doing what he’s doing now.”
The problem for the Dodgers: While limited to being the Phillies’ designated hitter, Harper wasn’t the only hitter torching Dodgers pitching. The Phillies lineup, constructed as a giant pile of thump, has lived up to its billing. The Dodgers entered the weekend with the best ERA in baseball. Only the Giants had allowed fewer home runs (17) than the Dodgers’ 20 when they got back to Dodger Stadium. They ended Saturday night with eight homers allowed in three games, even with another game still to go in the series.
A pitching staff that has been dominant for the season’s first month has now scrambled, trying to extinguish a Phillies lineup that, paired against a resurgent Dodgers offense, has combined for a series in which both teams seemingly had “MLB Slugfest” flaming bats set and ready to swing at all times.
The Dodgers have allowed 29 runs through the first three games of the series, tied for the fourth-most they’ve ever allowed at Dodger Stadium in such a span and their most in their home ballpark over three consecutive games since 2018 (33).
Julio Urías was the latest starter to suffer the body blows. He gave up a career-worst four home runs, one of which was a no-doubt shot by Harper, as part of an eight-run night.
“He’s an incredibly talented player,” Urías said in Spanish of Harper.
And of the first-pitch breaking ball that Harper pummeled: “It was a breaking ball I was trying to throw for a strike. Obviously … it was a strike.”
A first-inning three-run shot from Jean Segura barely snuck out, creeping over the short wall in left after coming off his bat at just 91 mph. Rhys Hoskins’ ball caromed off the home run seats in left center. Kyle Schwarber’s homer just kept carrying.
But Harper’s soared, casting a pall over a crowd that has gotten used to the sight this weekend.
Clayton Kershaw’s injury led to the Dodgers moving up the starts of two reigning Cy Young candidates on regular rest, but both of them (Urías and Walker Buehler) put together their worst outings of the season. On Friday night, Roberts pointed to the club’s issues sequencing against the Phillies’ aggressive and prolific bats. They weren’t corrected by Saturday night.
“There’s a lot of talent that we have as far as on the pitching side,” Roberts said. “I just think the last four games, I don’t think that we’ve executed like we’re capable of doing. When you take a team like those guys over there who are swinging hot bats, and you don’t make good pitches, they’re gonna make you pay.”
It has led to the Dodgers’ first four-game losing streak since June, when they followed up a listless sweep in San Diego by getting no-hit by the Cubs at Dodger Stadium. They’d reel off nine wins in a row after that, matching a season high en route to a 106-win season.
The Dodgers’ elite run prevention has taken a hit, although they still remain tops in the National League in terms of ERA but are now within the same neighborhood as other clubs in that regard rather than holding a half-run edge. The pitching staff, which is facing a stiff test, has largely survived the portion of the season they spent an offseason bracing for.
And at least for one afternoon, they’ll get to not have a Bryce Harper-sized problem to deal with — at least until they’re back in Philadelphia next weekend.
(Photo of Bryce Harper: Brian Rothmuller / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)