The Bryce Harper at first base era has begun. The two-time NL MVP and Philadelphia Phillies star suited up at first base for the first time in his big league career during Friday's loss to the Cleveland Guardians (CLE 6, PHI 5). Alec Bohm, who has served as Philadelphia's primary first baseman this season, slid back over to his usual third base.
This being baseball, the ball of course found Harper right away. The first batter of the game, Steven Kwan, hit a chopper that Harper fielded cleanly, and flipped to pitcher Ranger Suárez for the out. That was the easy play. Later in the game, Harper ranged to his left to snare a Myles Straw line drive, then he flipped into the camera well to catch a Amed Rosario pop up. Check it out:
Harper looks like a natural at first base, doesn't he? He has been working out at first base for weeks, but taking ground balls during infield practice and playing the position in actual games are very different things. The game happens so much faster on the infield than it does in the outfield. One game in, Harper handled himself well.
"You've just got to go out there and do it," manager Rob Thomson told the Philadelphia Inquirer last month about Harper's adjustment period at first base. "I think everybody has to understand, too, that the speed of the game is different than just taking ground balls. There's situations that come up that he's got to work through and he's got to learn from some mistakes because they're going to happen. Trust me. And that's natural."
Friday was the first time Harper played a defensive position since injuring his elbow on April 16, 2022. He remained in the Phillies lineup thereafter, but exclusively as the club's designated hitter. That was the case after he returned in late August from the thumb fracture he sustained on an errant pitch from San Diego Padres left-hander Blake Snell in late June.
Harper eventually underwent Tommy John surgery in November, after partaking in the Phillies' run to the World Series. He missed the first month of this season recovering from the operation and is still on a throwing program. He has not yet been cleared to make throws from the outfield, hence being limited to DH earlier this year and now moving to first base.
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Harper's ability to play first base will give the Phillies additional flexibility with their lineup -- be it in the form of having Bohm play third base (therefore reducing the exposure of Edmundo Sosa), or by opening up the DH slot. On Friday, for instance, Kyle Schwarber served as the DH with Jake Cave filling in in left field, giving the club a much better defensive outfield.
The 30-year-old Harper entered Friday hitting .295/.388/.415 (122 OPS+) with four home runs and 26 RBI on the year. He's homered just once in his first 56 plate appearances in July, with that coming on July 15. Prior to that, he had gone a career-long 38 games without launching a home run.
The Phillies, 52-45 following Friday's loss, recently moved into a tie for both second place in the National League East and the third wild card spot with the Miami Marlins.