Phillies Spring Training 2024

A couple key Phillies go deep, Harper shines defensively in spring debut

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CLEARWATER, Fla. — Most of the Phillies' starters were in the lineup Wednesday and it was a nice little early test for the bats, facing upper-90s velocity from Braves right-hander AJ Smith-Shawver.

Smith-Shawver threw 11 pitches ranging from 97 to 99 mph and the Phillies showed no signs of being ill-prepared for that sort of velocity on February 28.

In their first at-bats of the spring, J.T. Realmuto homered 379 feet to left, Bryce Harper singled to right and Alec Bohm hit a 418-foot two-run shot.

Realmuto came up an inning later and nearly took Smith-Shawver deep a second time, flying out 392 feet to the wall in center.

Not a bad first trip through the order.

"Felt good. First day of spring, just trying to see pitches and have good at-bats and good swings," Harper said. "Timing is off a little bit. Pretty expected. But it was good to be back out there."

Harper made two nice defensive plays to rob Jarred Kelenic. In the first inning, Harper dove to his right, fielded a hard-hit groundball and made a toss to starting pitcher Tyler Phillips for a 3-1 putout.

In the third inning, Harper started a perfectly executed 3-6 double play, stepping on the first base bag and firing a strike to Weston Wilson.

"It was nice to jump right into the fire," he said. "Get a couple pretty hot ones at you."

"Both (plays) were really good," manager Rob Thomson added. "He got caught out of place on one play where he went after the ball and Whit fielded it. Those are going to happen at times and he's still working his way through that. But he looks really comfortable and he's improving every day."

Harper played well defensively at first base in the final two months of 2023 after learning the position on the fly during his early-season rehab from Tommy John surgery.

With a full offseason of mental preparation, a full spring of work with respected infield coach Bobby Dickerson and the knowledge that first base will be his position long term, Harper has a chance to become one of the majors' better first basemen. The tools are all there.

"Sky's the limit for me because he's athletic and he's a baseball player," Thomson said. "He's calm, poised, he's got a great coach in Bobby Dickerson. A lot of good things could happen."

One of the finer points of playing first base that Harper is still learning is where to be on plays that don't involve him. When and where to back up a throw. The right spot on cutoffs.

"I was actually more happy about the positional stuff," he said. "A ball down the right-field line, where I need to be. I didn't get caught watching the game like I do so often because I like watching guys make good plays. Those are the moments that I still need to learn. A ball in the gap, trailing guys. A ball down the line, making sure the guy touches first base. Understanding where I need to be. Those are the big moments that I really need to understand. I got caught a little bit last year watching some plays and forgetting I'm the cutoff guy here. Learning those type of things."

Wednesday was the five-year anniversary of Harper's signing with the Phillies. So much has happened since. Disappointing team results early. A season shortened by a pandemic. A lockout. An MVP award. Two deep playoff runs. A series of high-priced veteran additions.

"I feel like the older you get, it goes quicker, right? I'm just so fortunate," he said. "I'm so thankful that I'm a Philadelphia Phillie. Just for the pure fact that five years ago, we didn't know where I was going to be. That's the one thing that everybody always talked about when I was in D.C. Where's he going to go? Where's he going to go? Where's he going to end up? What's he going to do? Is he going to stay? Is he going to go? And I'm so thankful I have the deal that I do and I know that I'm going to be here. Just very fortunate to be a Phillie. Just excited for things ahead."

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