Those of you checking out the Philadelphia Philles’ starting lineup for their game against the Cleveland Guardians on Friday night may have noticed something a little ... different: For the first time in his Major League career, two-time MVP Bryce Harper is starting at first base.
Bryce Harper is playing first base tonight.— Todd Zolecki (@ToddZolecki) July 21, 2023
Here’s the full lineup, with Harper batting his customary fourth and Kyle Schwarber leading off while manning the DH spot.
This move had long been rumored, even before Harper made his dramatic return from Tommy John surgery in May — he was spotted taking ground balls at first base in the weeks leading up to his 2023 debut. One look at the Phillies roster and it starts to make sense: With Rhys Hoskins out for the year, Alec Bohm’s bat stretched at the cold corner and Darick Hall alternately injured and struggling, the team didn’t have a natural first-base option. It also had other players — Schwarber, who should be playing left field as little as possible, but also J.T. Realmuto on days when he needs a break from catching duties — who should be seeing more time at DH but couldn’t with Harper occupying the role full-time.
Harper’s elbow still isn’t well enough for him to make throws from the outfield in a game, so first base was the only other option to make the roster math work. It allows Bohm to slide back to third, where he’s still defensively passable and his bat is far more valuable, and allows Schwarber to mash without butchering balls in the outfield. Of course, it remains to be seen how Harper handles the position: He’s technically played there twice as a big leaguer, once in 2018 with the Nationals and once in Philly in 2021, but those were both extra-innings situations in which he slid over for only an inning or two.
Now, though, the team hopes to play him there on something approaching an everyday basis, with Bohm likely taking up the mantle when Harper needs a day off (or when there’s a particularly tough lefty on the mound). Given how freaky of an athlete Harper is — and the fact that he used to be a catcher back in high school, meaning he’s plenty familiar with digging balls out of the dirt — we’re betting he won’t have too much trouble.