PHILADELPHIA — Phillies first baseman bryce harpers It’s going to be a real thing this week at Citizens Bank Park.
Harper is likely to start at least one game against the Brewers at first base, Phillies manager Rob Thomson said Sunday morning. Thomson declined to say which game it will be, but the three-game series begins Tuesday night. Harper’s move from designated hitter to first base will have implications for the 26-man roster, the defense and how the front office operates before the Aug. 1 trade deadline.
Whenever Harper takes the field early, it will be the first time he has played defense in an MLB game since April 16, 2022 in Miami, when he played eight innings in right field. Harper has previously played first base twice in his MLB career, once in 2018 and again in 2021, each time for a single hitter.
Darick Hall joined the Phillies on July 2 because they needed more pop in the lineup. Hall filled the same role last season, when Harper missed a couple of months with a broken left thumb. When the Phillies activated Harper from the disabled list in August 2022, they sent Hall to Triple-A Lehigh Valley because he would have almost no chance to play in the future.
Thomson said recently that there is a way for Hall to stay with the team once Harper moves to first base, but the Phillies could also look for someone with more defensive versatility. Someone like Triple-A outfielder Jake Cave or utility player Kody Clemens, both on the 40-man roster, or utility player Scott Kingery, who isn’t, might fit the description.
Kyle Schwarber is expected to spend more time at DH, though Harper won’t be playing first base every day, at least not initially. Schwarber ranks last in baseball at -15 starts above average, according to Statcast. Thomson has a couple of options to fill Schwarber’s place in the outfield: He could move Brandon Marsh to left field and put Johan Rojas in center, giving the Phillies their best defensive outfield in years. Or he could try more offense in left field, namely Cave, who is hitting .347 with a 1.118 OPS in 261 plate appearances with Lehigh Valley.
“It depends on the offense, really, who you have available,” Thomson said of that decision. “Because for me, defense is very important, because it is constant and it is usually quite consistent. Whereas the offense goes up and down a lot. I see where you take a guy like Rojas, if he keeps his head above water, and there’s not this big improvement on offense, and keeping it because you’re going to knock out runs with just him on the field.”
If Schwarber, Trea Turner and Harper heat up offensively, the offense at the bottom of the lineup shouldn’t matter as much. Meanwhile, with a Rojas-Marsh outfield, the benefits to the pitching staff could be enormous.
The trading deadline
The equation changes again if the Phillies find a bat to play in left field before the trade deadline. Hunter Renfroe and Cody Bellinger are among the corner outfielders who could be available.
Asked if Harper could still play right field sometime this year, Thomson said: “If anything, later in the season.”
So it’s still on the table?
“Yeah, he’s on the edge,” Thomson said.
First things first though, that is, Harper at first base starting this week.