Bryce Harper Phillies prepare to play first base in 2023: Inside the team’s ‘Full Go’ plan

PHILADELPHIA – A few days ago, Price Harper walked into Rob Thompson’s office in Citizens Bank Park. He came to the Filiz Islands with an idea earlier this month. Anyone around the Phillies can feel Harper’s concern as he continues to recover from reconstructive elbow surgery on his left arm. He wants to beat whatever schedule there is – which is why there isn’t a set schedule – but certain things can’t be rushed in rehab after Tommy John surgery.

So be it. But Harper thought there was a creative loophole worth pursuing. He wanted to learn how to play first base.

Maybe it can help him get back on the field faster in 2023. Maybe it can help the Phillies after 2023. He first went to Phillies baseball operations chief Dave Dombrowski earlier this month to make his pitch. She was convincing. Dombrowski involved Thompson, his coaches, the club’s medical staff and other front office officials. They came to a conclusion last weekend.

“Just go,” Thompson told Harper inside the principal’s office.

This week, the Phillies kicked off the plan. They are preparing Harper to play first base later in the season. This does not affect his schedule for returning to the Phillies lineup – he will still return as the designated hitter because he will be allowed to hit games before he is allowed to pitch. But if Harper takes over the new position, the Phillies think he might let him get back on the field sooner than if he played right field.

“That just tells you something about Harp,” Thompson said. the athlete before Wednesday’s 3-2 Phillies loss to the Marlins in 10 innings. “He’s a team man. He wants to play.”

The best case scenario was that Harper might return to the court sometime in September – if at all. Some within the organization have considered Harper as a DH, in 2023. Harper said it’s too early to tell if this can speed his return to playing the fielding position, but he’s convinced it’s something worth trying.

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“If I can give them what they want from first base, right field, or whatever—not just this year, but going forward—that gives us a chance,” Harper said. the athlete. “Whatever it is. Whatever they want. It gives them the option to do it.”

After a season-ending injury to Rhys Hoskins and thumb surgery to Darrick Hall that would sideline him for at least two months, first base became a de facto home for Harper. He still has to make throws—throws to other bases, throws to pieces and relays—but it’s not as laborious as the throws a right-handed player makes.

can he do it?

“Ukulele? said Thompson.” Because he’s athletic. It’s a baseball mouse. He’ll work on it.”

If Harper can vacate the DH spot sometime this summer, it will give Dombrowski more flexibility to look for potential promotions at the trade deadline. Ex: If Harper is on first base, Dombrowski could target the right-handed batter and convert either Kyle Schwarber or Nick Castellanos into a full-time DH role. This will allow Thompson more freedom in how he builds up his formations – rather than reserving a DH spot for Harper, he can use it to accommodate regulars who need to rest but also keep their bat in the lineup.

“It doesn’t hurt to keep our options open,” Thompson said. “So let’s do the digging. Find out. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, it won’t.”

But Harper is serious about this. When veteran coach Bobby Dickerson heard about the plan earlier this week, he approached Harper.

New game for Christmas? Dickerson told him.

Harper said, “No.” “I want to do this.”

Dickerson understood.

It works, he said.

Rob Thompson thinks Bryce Harper can learn first base. “He’s a baseball mouse. He’ll work on it.” (Bill Streicher / USA Today)

For about 10 minutes Wednesday afternoon, Harper stood on the lawn with Dombrowski and the two had a moving conversation. The day before, Harper went to first base and did some light work with Dickerson. Many team officials played coy when asked about it. They said the rehearsals were just a way for Harper to keep himself busy.

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“He’s been working on the gloves,” Thompson told a group of reporters before Tuesday’s game. “You’ll see Castellanos out there on the field every once in a while. (Brandon) Marsh, all those guys.”

it’s the truth. But none of those players have ever drilled with a first baseman’s glove — which is what Harper did on Tuesday. It’s his glove, which he hardly ever used. He has appeared at two jobs at first base; Both times at the end of games for one hit when his team went to a five-man pitch.

The first Bryce Harper glove. (Matt Gelb / the athlete)

Harper was a third baseman and catcher when he was younger. He always wore gloves and a first baseman’s glove was something he wanted. just in case.

“I’ve thought about it, I guess,” said Harper. the athlete. “That kind of thing. But the opportunity of course wasn’t there because we had a big first baseman. Right? But, now, we kind of have a revolving door there. It just gives us a chance to do that.”

Dickerson said Harper joked with him for years about being a player. But the tone was different this time.

“He’s really serious,” Dickerson said. “Obviously, he wouldn’t be the star he is without that. When he decides to do something, he’s all there. Right? He’ll give it his all. My gut tells me he’ll be good at it.”

Harper, after his Wednesday afternoon talk with Dombrowski, went to first base again. First base coach Paco Figueroa hit ground balls to Harper, who received detailed instructions from Dickerson. They practiced sneaky swings to first base. Dickerson emphasized the movement of the feet.

Harper hit the hard ball.

“Nice – good!” exclaimed Dickerson.

The session lasted 23 minutes.

“It’s fun,” Dickerson said. “I love challenges. I love things that can help the team.”

Harper practiced the uncommon actions as a first baseman with deliberate speed. Dickerson wants the workouts to be slow at first because the basics are important. The biggest challenges, Dickerson said, will be learning the intricacies of the situation—which balls in the hole to chase, when to cover the bag, and how to make cuts and relays.

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“As we get through this, we’ll start to pick up the pace,” Dickerson said. “The speed of the game is the real test. You can be great in drills and then not be able to take it to the field in the game. But my gut tells me, knowing how he handles big situations and tension and all that, I think he’ll be able to slow the game down.”

“Anytime I just want to be ready and play it my best,” Harper said. the athlete. “I’m going to take as many reps as I can out there and work with Bobby every single day.”

The Phillies have never said a clear timeline for Harper’s return as a DH other than an offseason announcement estimating his “all-star break”. It’s clearly ahead of that mark; The Phillies did not put him on the 60-day injured list because there was a chance Harper would be back by the end of May.

Harper practices hitting in the ballpark and hits on Tuesday against a high-speed machine. But doctors wouldn’t let him slip or dive because there is a certain period after Tommy John surgery when a reconstructed elbow can tear. Harper, who had surgery Nov. 23, likely won’t get that clearance until May.

Until then, he’ll hit and run with an elbow brace. But as he learns his new position, he is unencumbered. The more he is allowed to throw again, the faster the increase can be at first base. “We can do things to reduce the intensity of the throws,” Dickerson said. “We can definitely do some things.” Everyone with the Phillies is cautiously optimistic about the plan.

It’s been 361 days since Harper has played the field. It was months before he became something other than a DH, but maybe Harper’s idea would help the Phillies later.

Thompson said, “Yes.” “This is it.”

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(Photo by Bryce Harper playing globes on Wednesday: Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

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