Why Bryce Harper had to reteach himself how to throw a baseball


It took until the 16th game of the Grapefruit League season for Bryce Harper to play defense. He debuted in right field on Tuesday and handled a couple of plays flawlessly in five innings. 

Harper will be the designated hitter when the Phillies host the Tigers on Wednesday afternoon in Clearwater. 

Thursday is an off day in Phillies camp. The club will have 11 games remaining in Florida after that and Harper is expected to crank it up on both sides of the ball during that stretch as he goes through final preparations for opening day.

There was a reason why the Phillies held off Harper's defensive debut. Harper played through lower back soreness over the final weeks of the 2020 season. The injury affected his production and relegated him to DH work because he felt pain when he threw the ball.

Harper spent some time over the winter looking at video and consulting with coaches and ascertained that his throwing mechanics were causing unnecessary stress on his back. He proceeded to make an adjustment in his throwing mechanics. 

"I kind of had to reteach myself to throw properly and not put too much stress on my shoulder or elbow or lower back or my legs," Harper said after Tuesday's game.

He spent time in the offseason and early in camp working on the adjustment and felt ready to take the field in a game Tuesday.

"Just a little something I had to do," he said. "I don't really want to get too far into it. I feel good where it's going. I feel fine right now.

"I just think it betters me in all aspects, not just my back and my arm but everything all around it. I just need to watch myself on certain things when I'm out there so I don't put stress in the bad area of my body."

Manager Joe Girardi offered some insight into the adjustment Harper made.

"He's not throwing across his body as much," Girardi said. "When he does, he wrenches his back. He's worked really hard on it and so far, so good.

"I never really knew it, but our staff noticed it. I like what I see. I watch him play catch and it looks good to me."

Throwing across one's body is usually associated with pitchers. Some use it to their benefit to create crossfire deception. But it's generally not something that is taught because it's not considered mechanically pure. Fixing the flaw generally starts with footwork.

Harper grew up as a catcher and a third baseman and moved to the outfield in pro ball. He said he's thrown the same way his whole life and never previously detected a mechanical flaw. He credited Phillies outfield/first base coach Paco Figueroa for helping him on all things defense.

"I owe a lot to Paco," Harper said. "He's the first coach who really has taught me how to play a position other than catcher or third base. So, it's been good to be able to work with him. I actually thanked him before camp because he gives me a lot of opportunities to get better."

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