April 13, 2023
As part of his work from the field on Tuesday, Bryce Harper was set up around first base and taking ground balls.
It was curious, but at the time, manager Rob Thomson didn't make all that much out of it.
"It's just his glove action right now," Thomson said from the dugout of Citizens Bank Park that afternoon. "We'll tackle the other stuff later, but he's just working on his glove work, and you'll see Castellanos out there in the infield every once in a while, Marsh, all those guys."
But, as the word that broke Wednesday night revealed, there's a lot more going on there.
Bryce Harper is learning to play first base.
He still needs to complete his rehab from Tommy John surgery and get cleared by his doctors, which still looks to have a bit longer to go, and there's no guarantee this experiment will fully come to fruition, but he and the Phillies are giving it a try.
At the very least, it could add a lot more flexibility once he does return and settle back into the lineup, especially with Rhys Hoskins out for the season and Darick Hall out for a good while.
Hey, worth a try, right?
Here's what they're saying...
According to Gelb, who broke the story Wednesday night, the idea to give first a shot was all Harper's.
He wants to play again and he wants to beat whatever expected recovery timeline there might be for him, and so he proposed a potential loophole to team president Dave Dombrowski and then Thomson.
Maybe it could help him return to the field quicker in 2023. Maybe it could help the Phillies beyond 2023. He first went to Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski earlier this month to make his pitch. It was compelling. Dombrowski engaged Thomson, his coaches, the club’s medical staff, and other front-office officials. They came to a conclusion this past weekend.
“Full go,” Thomson said to Harper inside the manager’s office.
This week, the Phillies initiated the plan. They are preparing Harper to play first base later this season. This does not affect his timetable to return to the Phillies’ lineup — he will still return as the designated hitter because he will be cleared to hit in games before he is cleared to throw. But if Harper takes to the new position, the Phillies think it could allow him to return to the field sooner than if he played right field.
“That just tells you something about Harp,” Thomson told The Athletic before Wednesday’s 3-2 Phillies loss to the Marlins in 10 innings. “The team guy that he is. He wants to play.” [The Athletic, $]
Again, no guarantee this experiment works, but from Harper's and the Phillies' perspective, it's worth the look. Because if it does, it'll solve a few major problems the lineup's been having to deal with.
The Phillies are down two first basemen, with Rhys Hoskins lost for the season and Darick Hall for at least two months. They’re asking third baseman Alec Bohm to move across the field against left-handed pitchers — and some righties, too, especially if .143-career-hitting utilityman Kody Clemens proves to be overmatched. The hope is to get by for a few months, until a noncontender is willing to discuss a white-flag trade.
Harper can see all of this. His recovery from an elbow ligament reconstruction in his right (throwing) arm is going as well as could be expected. Better, actually. And so, according to The Athletic, he approached president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski within the past few days and pitched a concept: When he’s ready to play defense again, it should be at first base.
Maybe it will work. Maybe not. Harper, true to form, wants to go for it. Full steam ahead. [The Inquirer, $]
Shifting gears, and going back to Gelb and The Athletic, the Phillies are facing another problem early on, and this one Harper can't fix: The starting rotation just hasn't been making it deep into games so far.
In Tuesday night's 8-4 loss to Miami, Aaron Nola surrendered four earned runs and was pulled after 5.2 innings. Thomson had to reach into the bullpen again, taking a toll that no club ever wants to be dealing with within the season's first month.
There will be nights like Tuesday, an 8-4 Phillies loss, but they have been too concentrated in the season’s first two weeks. The Phillies have had one start that lasted six innings over the first 11 games. They had Aaron Nola on the mound against an anemic Miami offense and he completed five innings on 68 pitches.
He did not make it through the sixth inning.
“I didn’t make the pitches when I needed to with two strikes,” Nola said. “I felt like I was one pitch away. Just kept kind of missing a little bit. They kept getting hits. It spiraled.”
The Phillies are the only team in MLB with just one start of at least six innings. It’s the first time in the franchise’s recorded history that only one of the first 11 starts went six innings. The Phillies built up four of their five starters, and Matt Strahm has been the most reliable so far. He was a middle reliever when spring training began.
“It taxes the bullpen, for sure,” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said. “We have to figure it out.” [The Athletic, $]
Follow Nick on Twitter: @itssnick
Like us on Facebook: PhillyVoice Sports