Phillies hitting coach Kevin Long is excited to see Bryce Harper back in the lineup.
When watching a replay video of the Blake Snell fastball that fractured the thumb of Philadelphia Phillies star Bryce Harper in late June, hitting coach Kevin Long says his “heart sinks.” But now that Harper has healed and returned to the Phillies starting lineup, the baseball life’s heart is filled with nothing but joy.
Long joined MLB Network on Friday to discuss the seven-time All-Star and the overall team — as it looks to keep the momentum going in the right direction following a four-game sweep of the Cincinnati Reds. Long described having Harper back will be a “big boost” and he knows the guys are “pumped” and “ready to go,” adding:
"“It hurt not having Bryce in the lineup. But, certainly, he is back and we will see what that provides.”"
The Phillies hitting coach went on to joke that perhaps the slugger was called up too soon from Triple-A after only a two-game stint:
"“I think it might be a little premature to call up a guy who’s only had two days at Triple-A, but Dave Dombrowski went with it and we’ll see what this kid can do. We know he can play here. We know he’s been a two-time MVP. This guy is incredible. We might have a spot for him — I don’t know, somewhere down in the order tonight. We’ll see what Rob Thomson wants to do.”"
Despite not having their reigning MVP for a significant portion of the season, the Phillies found a way to stay afloat in the National League Wild Card race — winning 32 of their 52 games and averaging 4 1/2 runs per game, while gaining nine games on the San Diego Padres and 6 1/2 on the Milwaukee Brewers. Almost the entire lineup stepped up in Harper’s absence. Long credits this success to the team’s maturity, growth, and bonding:
"“The team came together. We knew we had to come together. They did it. I give a lot of credit to the guys in the locker room. They all stepped up — the young guys, Bryson Stott [and] Alec Bohm; [Kyle] Schwarber and [Rhys] Hoskins went crazy at the top of the order; [J.T.] Realmuto and [Nick] Castellanos found their stride. It’s just been a lot of fun to watch. And then the guys that fill in are doing a tremendous job as well.”"
Long later credited two young players in particular for the position the team is in now with fewer than 40 games remaining: Alec Bohm and Bryson Stott:
"“They have really matured and come into their own. We put Alec Bohm in the three-hole and he responded terrifically. He just has been really good. Bryson Stott — I can’t say enough about his growth … defensively, offensively, and just as a baseball player. It’s just been a lot of fun to see.”"
Long — who previously served as hitting coach under Joe Girardi from 2008 to 2014 and briefly again in 2022 — noted that while he misses his former New York Yankees and Phillies dugout colleague, he is bullish on interim manager Rob Thomson.
Thomson, who was also on the Yankees coaching staff before coming to Philadelphia, never managed a game before he replaced Girardi in early June. Yet, there was “no doubt” in Long’s mind that Thomson would “take the reigns” and succeed:
"“The guys and the coaching staff have responded to him. He is just a baseball guy … [a] junkie. He’s at the field at 9 a.m., and he’s the last one to leave — somewhere in the wee hours of 1 a.m. He just enjoys what he is doing. He’s a great communicator. He has been a lot of fun to work for.”"
When asked if the Phillies have enough to beat the New York Mets and/or Atlanta Braves in a potential postseason series, Long said that he “cannot wait” to find out:
"“I like the way we are gelling and coming together. Our pitching staff has been terrific. Our bullpen has been solidified. It is a team that is growing, maturing, and bonding. They are so much fun in the dugout. There is a lot of fun in the clubhouse. And, let’s not forget, there is a lot of talent as well.”"
Especially now that Harper is back in the Phillies lineup, we can’t wait to find out as well, Kevin.
If the season were to end today, the Phillies would play the Atlanta Braves in the three-game National League Wild Card series. However, if the reigning World Series champions overtake the New York Mets in the NL East standings in the final six weeks, the Phillies could very well face them instead.
Meanwhile, if the Phillies fall to the third NL Wild Card spot, Thomson’s squad would likely face the St. Louis Cardinals in a 2011 postseason rematch opposite future Hall of Fame slugger Albert Pujols.
There is still a lot of baseball to be played before then, however, and anything can happen.