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June 25, 2023

Bryce Harper will play first base when he can finally return to the field

Harper still has a ways to go before he's cleared for defense, but he and the Phillies will put the first-base experiment to the test once he is, per The Inquirer.

Bryce Harper still has a ways to go before he's considered safe to play in the field again, but when that day does come, the first base experiment he and the Phillies have been working on will be the first thing put to the test. 

“We’re hoping, yeah,” manager Rob Thomson said Saturday (via The Philadelphia Inquirer's Scott Lauber). “We’re hoping. But first base will be the first [position].”

No one's in any real rush right now though as the risk of damage to Harper's surgically reconstructed UCL is still too great.

Back in April, while Harper was making his way back to the lineup from Tommy John surgery at a lightning-fast pace, he was spotted ahead of games fielding ground balls along the first-base line. 

Initially, Thomson played it off, saying it was just a means for Harper to keep his glove active since it was going to be a while before he could use it again in-game. But the cat was let out of the bag soon after when The Athletic's Matt Gelb reported that the Phillies, at Harper's own request, were going to train him up at the position to try and give it a go. 

They've stuck with it. 

Per Lauber, Harper has been working on first-base reps with infield coach Bobby Dickerson nearly every day for the past two months, running parallel to his throwing program, which is gradually increasing in distance and velocity. 

The Phillies are continuing to exercise caution though and still aren't expecting Harper back in the field until after the All-Star break in July, according to Lauber. Another follow-up with Harper's surgeon, Dr. Neal ElAttrache, could be needed as well. 

In theory, first base would be a relatively safe way of easing Harper back into the defensive side of things. The position would mostly have him catching throws and fielding grounders, with any potential throw he would have to make himself being at a shorter distance and nowhere near as intensive as firing a ball all the way in from right field. 

And if he can step in at first and hold up well there, it would solve a couple of problems for the Phillies ahead of the August 1 trade deadline – provided he can get back out there by then. First, it would give them some stability at the position after losing Rhys Hoskins for the regular season to a torn ACL, allowing Alec Bohm to go back to third full-time and for Kody Clemens to slip back into a bench utility role. Second, Harper occupying a spot in the field would free up the designated hitter for Kyle Schwarber, so he can focus solely on hitting while the Phillies can get more athleticism out in left field. 

But again, there's still a ways to go before any of that can be considered.

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