Pace of play rules created a dangerous situation for Bryce Harper Wednesday


LOS ANGELES -- There's no question that MLB's new pace of play rules in 2023 have sped up games and created more action, but certain situations call for some nuance.

In the ninth inning Wednesday afternoon at Dodger Stadium, Bryce Harper singled with two outs. Harper, who returned Tuesday after undergoing Tommy John surgery in late November, will be wearing a large brace on his right arm when on the basepaths this season. 

The problem was that he was not permitted enough time to put the brace on after reaching base in the ninth. He had less than 25 seconds to try to put it on before the next pitch was thrown to Nick Castellanos. He ended up sliding into home plate on Bryson Stott's game-tying single and was fortunately able to do so with his right arm off the ground.

Pretty dangerous. If Harper were to slide the wrong way or collide with a fielder, he's at risk of rupturing his surgically repaired elbow.

"He didn't have time to get his guard on in the ninth inning and that scared me a little bit," manager Rob Thomson said after the Phillies' walk-off, 10-6 loss. 

"Really, they should amend the rule to a certain degree to have a superstar or anybody who has an issue with the guards or whatever, just give them extra time. Have a feel for it so they're not going to injure them. 

"He didn't have time. Casty had to call timeout, he saw him struggling and Harper still didn't have time to get it on, he had to throw it to (first base coach Paco Figueroa). 

"Do you want to waste a minute so you can keep a superstar in the game?"

Harper said he and the Phillies have taken the issue all the way up to commissioner Rob Manfred but were told that he will not be permitted more time to put on the brace. The rationale is likely that it would be a slippery slope, but it creates an impractical scenario for a player in Harper's position.

"Pace of play thing, of course," he said. "It's going to be tough in those situations, you have what, 22 seconds to get going? I hope some umpires have some feel about it. Some umpires usually do, so I appreciate that out of them. But we'll see. I know they're going to try to get me extra time but if they're not, then I won't be able to get it on and get it going."

After going 0 for 4 with three strikeouts and swinging through seven of the 16 pitches he saw Tuesday in his season debut, Harper reached base all five times Wednesday. He doubled, singled twice and walked twice. The double and the ninth-inning single were to the opposite field.

Harper was happy with his timing at the plate in his first game but not with his pitch selection. It was much better in Game 2.

"Just slowing it down," he said. "Yesterday, it sped up a little bit, I was just swinging. Today, I was more under control. Anytime you're a little fired up at the beginning of a season, it's going to happen.

"On a personal level, I felt good, just getting out there and calming myself down a little," he said. "Pitch selection is huge. My dad says when I'm walking, it's going pretty good. Just got to keep that going, keep that rolling."

On a team level, Harper was not pleased. The Phillies played poor defense, they went scoreless for five innings after building a five-run lead, Aaron Nola couldn't protect a large advantage and the bullpen suffered another loss.

"There were some mistakes made today and mistakes made over the last couple weeks that we just need to clean up, myself included," he said.

"Just everything, as a team, as a whole -- catch the ball, throw the ball, hit the ball, make the plays. When you play the game the right way, play it sound, you win a lot of games."

Pitching has become an issue. The Phillies left Los Angeles with the worst ERA in the National League (5.13). Nearly every Phillie who pitched at Dodger Stadium this week -- Taijuan Walker, Matt Strahm, Nola, Craig Kimbrel, Gregory Soto, Jose Alvarado, Luis Ortiz, Yunior Marte -- struggled in one form or another. 

The only piece of good news other than Harper's return was that Ranger Suarez could be back in the rotation by late next week. Suarez made his second rehab start Tuesday and will make his next Sunday, increasing to 70-75 pitches. If it goes well, the Phillies could activate him in time for his next start, Thomson said Wednesday morning.

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