Bryce Harper was the Phillies’ first batter in the eighth inning Saturday night at Dodger Stadium. The reigning National League MVP had doubled in his first at-bat of the night and homered in his second. Now, facing burly right-hander Reyes Moronta, Harper did a strange thing for a slugger. He squared up to bunt.
The bunt was a beauty, a medium-fast dribbler between the mound and the third-base line. Moronta got his glove on it but couldn’t get off a throw. It was recorded as Harper’s 14th and final hit of the week, which culminated with an NL Player of the Week award.
Harper is no stranger to bunting for a hit. In 2015, amid the best season of his career, he drew the ire of then-Washington Nationals manager Matt Williams for bunting to start an eighth-inning rally. Harper would finish that season with 42 home runs and 38 doubles. Williams, in lockstep with orthodox sabermetric strategy – the strategy that relegated bunting from standard practice to niche art form – wanted Harper to try for another.
Flash forward to Monday. Before their series opener against the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Dodgers wheeled the batting cage onto the field behind home plate. Three left-handed hitters – Max Muncy, Cody Bellinger and Gavin Lux – practiced dropping bunts down the third-base line.
That night, Muncy faced the standard left-handed hitter’s shift when he came to bat in the sixth inning. Rather than…