Philadelphia — A few days ago, Bryce Harper walked into Rob Thomson’s office in Citizens Bank Park. He came to the Phillies earlier this month with an idea. Everyone around the Phillies can sense Harper’s restlessness.
That’s fine. But Harper thought there was a creative loophole worth pursuing. He wanted to learn how to play first base.
Perhaps it will help him get back on the field sooner in 2023. Maybe it will help the Phillies in 2023 and beyond. Dabrowski engaged with Thomson, his coach, the club’s medical staff and other front office personnel. They came to a conclusion last weekend.
“Good luck,” Thomson said to Harper in the manager’s office.
This week, the Phillies began planning. They’re gearing up for Harper to play first base later this season. This will not affect his timetable returning to the Phillies lineup — he will continue to return as the designated hitter as hits are allowed in games before pitches are allowed. However, if Harper were to take the new position, the Phillies believe he could get back on the field sooner than if he played right field.
“It tells you something about the harp,” said Thomson athletic before Wednesday’s 3-2 Phillies’ 10-inning loss to the Marlins. “He’s a team guy. He wants to play.”
The best-case scenario was that Harper would probably return to the outfield in September. Some within the organization see Harper as his DH in 2023. Harper said it’s too early to know if this will accelerate his return to position on the field, but he’s sure it’s something worth trying.
“If you can give them first baseman, right fielder, or whatever they want, it’s going to give them a chance, not just this year, but going forward,” Harper said. athletic“It doesn’t matter. Whatever they want. Give them the option to do it.”
After a season-ending injury to Rhys Hoskins and thumb surgery to Darrick Hall that sidelined him for at least two months, the first baseman became a realistic home for Harper. You have to — throws to other bases, cutoffs and relays — but they’re not as hard as right fielders throw.
can he do that?
“Harp? I do,” said Thomson. “Because he’s an athlete. He’s a baseball rat. He’ll work on it.”
If Harper can vacate the DH position at some point this summer, Dombrowski will have more flexibility in looking for potential upgrades at the trade deadline. For example: With Harper at first base, Dombrowski could target right-handed outfielders and shift either Kyle He Schwarber or Nick He Castellanos into his DH role full-time. That would give Thomson more flexibility in its lineup. For Harper he could use it to cater to patrons in need of a rest rather than securing his DH spot, but could also leave the bat in the lineup.
“It doesn’t hurt us to keep options open,” Thomson said. “So let’s do some drill work. Figure it out. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.”
But Harper is serious about this. Veteran infield coach Bobby Dickerson reached out to Harper when he heard about the plans earlier this week.
“A new toy for Christmas?” Dickerson said to him.
“No,” said Harper. “I want to do this”
“It’s on,” he said.
On Wednesday afternoon, Harper and Dombrowski stood on the lawn for about 10 minutes, and the two had a lively conversation. The day before, Harper went to first base and had a quick job with Dickerson. Many team officials were shy when asked about it. They said training was just a way for Harper to keep busy.
“He was doing glove work,” Thomson told reporters before the game on Tuesday.
That’s true. But none of these outfielders have practiced with a first baseman’s mitt — and Harper did just that on Tuesday. He made two career appearances at first base. One hitter at the end of the game both times when his team went to five infielders.
Harper was a third baseman and catcher in his youth. He always had an infielder’s glove and a first baseman’s mitt was just what he wanted.
“I think you’ve thought about it,” Harper said. athleticBut we had a big first baseman, so of course we didn’t have a chance. Right? But now there’s a revolving door in there. is.”
Dickerson has joked with him for years about Harper being an infielder.
“He’s really serious,” Dickerson said. “Obviously, he wouldn’t be a superstar without it. When he decides to do something, he’s in full force, right? He’s going to give it everything he’s got.” Intuition says he’ll be pretty good at it.”
Harper headed to first base again Wednesday afternoon after a meeting with Dombrowski. First base coach Paco Figueroa hit a ground ball to Harper, who had detailed instructions from Dickerson. They practiced an underhand flip to first base. Dickerson emphasized footwork.
Harper caught a hard hit.
“Good!” Dickerson shouted.
The session lasted 23 minutes.
“It’s fun,” said Dickerson. “I love a challenge. I love anything that might help the team.”
Harper practiced the unfamiliar action with deliberate speed as a first baseman. According to Dickerson, the biggest challenge will be learning the intricacies of position, such as which ball to chase in the hole, when to cover the bag, and how to do cutoffs and relays.
“As this goes on, we’re going to start picking up the pace,” said Dickerson. “Speed in the game is the real test. Sometimes you can do well in a drill and not field it in a match. I think I can slow down the game because I know what to do.”
“At any time, I want to be ready and perform to the best of my ability,” Harper said. athletic“I take as many reps there as possible and work with Bobby every day.”
The Phillies have never given a clear timeline for Harper’s return as DH, other than an offseason announcement presumed “by the All-Star break.” It’s clear he’s surpassed that mark. With Harper likely to be back by the end of May, the Phillies have not put him on his 60-day injured list.
Harper has been practicing batting on the field and hit a fast machine on Tuesday. However, he is not cleared by doctors to slide or dive due to the period during which the reconstructed elbow can rupture after Tommy John surgery. We may not receive that permit until May.
Until then, I will hit and run with an elbow supporter. But he is unhindered while learning his new position. Whenever he is allowed to throw again, the ramp up can be faster at first base. “We can definitely do some things.” Everyone at the Phillies is cautious and optimistic about the plan.
It’s been 361 days since Harper has played the field. It will still be months before he becomes anything other than his DH, but perhaps Harper’s idea will help the Phillies later on.
“Yes,” said Thomson. “That’s him.”
(Photo of Bryce Harper fielding a groundball Wednesday by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)