In addition to struggling at the plate in Washington during Tuesday’s disastrous doubleheader loss to the Nationals, Harper had a rough time in right field, making an error and misplaying two other balls.
Late in Sunday afternoon’s loss to the Blue Jays at Citizens Bank Park, Harper for the first time publicly revealed that his back was bothering him when he pulled himself out of that game after striking out with the bases loaded in the seventh inning.
After that game, manager Joe Girardi revealed that Harper’s back had previously been an issue this season.
How much an issue?
J.T. Realmuto offered some more insights after Tuesday’s D.C. disaster.
“His back has been nagging him for quite some time and people didn’t even know it really until recently,” Realmuto said. “So he’s been playing through some stuff for a while, but he’s the kind of guy that if there’s an opportunity to be in the lineup he’s going to and try to help the team.”
Realmuto said he did not know when Harper’s back first started bothering him.
“I just know it’s been hurting a little longer than most people know,” Realmuto said.
Harper got off to a sizzling start this season. In his first 22 games, through August 22, he was hitting .343 and leading the majors with a .714 slugging percentage.
In 32 games since then, he is hitting .185 (20 for 108) with six doubles, four homers and a .352 slugging percentage that ranks 130th in the majors over that span.
Harper has acknowledged his struggles, saying he’s swinging at too many pitches outside the strike zone and missing too many pitches in the strike zone. Hitting coach Joe Dillon has talked about Harper’s struggles.
The condition of the Harper's back had not previously been brought up, but it could be a factor in the dropoff in his offense production over the last month – and his defense in the field the last couple of days. He does not appear to be moving as well as a normal.
Harper has told Girardi that he can play through the back issue and he will likely continue to do so over the final four games. After that, he may have a long winter to rest because this four-game losing streak has dropped the Phillies off the NL playoff grid and they will need a serious turnaround in a short amount of time to get back on it.
Realmuto returned to the lineup Tuesday after missing 11 games with a hip injury. He is not 100 percent and won’t be for the remainder of the season, but he also intends to keep playing through the issue.
“I don’t feel I went backward,” said Realmuto, who caught the first game Tuesday and served as the DH in the second. “As long as I stay where I’m at now I’ll be able to play the rest of the year.”