CLEARWATER, Fla. — One spring training prediction of which I’m reasonably sure: It’s going to be easy as hell to cheer against the Philadelphia Phillies in 2019. And their fans are going to be insufferable whiners if the reaction to Bryce Harper being hit by a Trent Thornton pitch on Friday at Spectrum Field is any indication.
The Phillies’ $330-million man was hit in the right ankle by a 96-mph 1-1 fastball in the bottom of the sixth inning, crumpling to the ground and limping out of the game for X-rays. The preliminary report was negative, but the Phillies sent their star for more comprehensive X-rays.
“Right now we don’t have any major concerns,” said Phillies manager Gabe Kapler, although considering Harper didn’t play in his first Grapefruit League game until last Saturday and was making just his eighth plate appearance of the spring, a prolonged absence might set back his readiness for Opening Day.
Philly fans responded as you’d expect. Thornton, acquired from the Houston Astros in the Aledmys Diaz deal, had people yell that they hoped he died as he left the field. Online, he had threats against himself and his family. A video was circulating about a Blue Jays player being called a coward as he walked past a small group of Phillies fans on the way to the team bus.
Thornton was clearly shocked as he sat in the visitor’s clubhouse scrolling through his timeline. Bud Norris, who made his spring debut, uttered expletives when he heard about the reaction. Kevin Pillar urged Thornton to report the Twitter incidents to Major League Baseball security, which the Blue Jays were preparing to do.
“It was a 1-1 count and I was trying to go in on a fastball, and I just kind of yanked it a little bit,” said Thornton, who finished his outing with two strikeouts and a walk in 1 1/3 innings. “It got away from me, and unfortunately it hit him. I mean, is wasn’t intentional at all. My phone’s blowing up right now … and, I’m trying to deal with it.
“I mean, I was amped up. It’s the first time I ever faced him and I wanted my stuff to be good. I threw him a good curveball and he swung through it, so I wanted to set it up again with an inside fastball.”
Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo was upset by the reaction, noting he had put the four-man outfield in place for the at-bat.
“You don’t do that and hit somebody,” he said, dismissively. “It’s kind of sad that happens. We’re all hoping that one of the best stars in baseball isn’t hurt. But everybody knows it wasn’t on purpose. Of course not. We’re not gonna put a four-man outfield out there to hit a guy in the leg.”
The Blue Jays and Phillies are inter-league opponents, absent any natural inter-league rival for the Blue Jays, and maybe these franchises are starting to eye each other uneasily long after Joe Carter touched ‘em all against Mitch Williams in 1993. Local sensibilities were somewhat offended in Toronto when it was decided Roy Halladay would go into the Hall of Fame with no logo on his hat, although for many of us it seemed a logical decision.
There have been some odd happenings between these teams – including a rare spring training dugout-clearing incident incited by then-Phillies manager Larry Bowa in 2003, when Halladay, then pitching for the Blue Jays, hit Jim Thome with a pitch. Rheal Cormier threw inside to Halladay when he was hitting – National League rules in effect.
Bowa, now a special advisor, was in uniform in the Phillies dugout Friday as an extra coach.
It’s the second time this spring that things have become edgy between these teams. Last Saturday, Rhys Hoskins pulled himself up after being dusted by a Matt Shoemaker pitch and stared out at the veteran starter, who remained on the mound ready to deliver the next pitch. Luke Maile rose from his crouch, walked out and stood on home plate as Hoskins – who homered off Shoemaker earlier in the game – finished his chirping. Shoemaker crossed paths with Hoskins going to the visitors dugout and Hoskins nodded and patted his chest, while his former Phillies teammate Freddy Galvis, now with the Blue Jays, had a few words for him.
Thornton is vying for a bullpen spot and faces long odds. Norris looked good, and he will be given every chance to break camp with the team as a short reliever – the value of which was reinforced slightly Friday when Ken Giles didn’t accompany the team on the short trip from Dunedin due to mild shoulder irritation – no, not because of his verbal altercation with David Paulino on Thursday but because he slept awkwardly on his shoulder, according to Montoyo, who expects him to be good to go on Sunday. Giles, of course, is a former Phillie who rankled a few feathers when he was here and with the teams scheduled to meet each other again on Thursday … well, might be worthwhile seeing what the baseball gods have in store.