‘What he’s done to come back is remarkable’: Bryce Harper inspires Phillies return from injury, moves to first base

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PHILADELPHIA — Not too long ago, veteran leadership in Philadelphia meant a pat on the back for Bryce Harper. These days, means following his lead. In his fifth season with the Phillies, the two-time MVP turned the all-consuming hype that loomed over him as a teenager into ubiquitous respect.

After a stellar performance in the Phillies' World Series run and a borderline superhuman comeback from Tommy John surgery, Harper has hammered home a truth that took some time to come to grips. Gone is his predictable caricature as a hotshot, The one Cole Hamels once did intentionally thanks to the rigidity of unacknowledged norms, Here in the Phillies clubhouse, a superstar is setting a positive example by bending over backwards for the betterment of the team. (And yes, Harper and Hamels buried that hatchet when the former signed with the Phillies.)

Harper's warp-speed return from elbow surgery in an unprecedented 159 days was already impressive, but young teammates are especially taking note of his willingness to learn first base. Confined to the designated hitter for now, Harper has been taking grounders and practicing infield throws so that when he reaches his next level of clearance, he can fill a need for a cold corner that Rhys Hawkins and Derrick Hall broke open on both long downs. period injuries.

Having Harper step in at the start would certainly help fill a gap for the Phillies, who are once again off to a slower-than-desired start and hovering around .500 after last season's cathartic October run. Which is why young shortstop Bryson Stott pointed out that Harper could have a positive ripple effect firsthand. That would re-open the designated hitter slot to help fellow veterans Kyle Schwarber, Nick Castellanos and JT Realmuto stay in the lineup with more rest.

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“I think whenever you see a superstar do it,” Stott said, “it's like, why am I complaining about anything if he's here, one of the best players in the game.” One, changing your luggage?”

Positional flexibility has been in vogue in MLB for a while, but it still raises eyebrows when stars at Harper's level walk in — like Freddie Freeman. short run on third base Or dubbing Mookie Betts at shortstop for the Los Angeles Dodgers. In this case, Harper volunteered, brought the idea to Dave Dombrowski, the team's president of baseball operations, and manager Rob Thomson after Hoskins went down while he was still on the rehab trail.

Harper cited his desire to help 26-year-old “big-time third baseman” Alec Bohm, saying, “Once it happened, I was like, ‘Okay, well, it's just a revolving door. ” , which often shifts to first, returns to its normal position.

“He's a guy who's been around baseball a long time — seen a lot of things in his lifetime,” Phillies hitting coach Kevin Long said of Harper.

Before the Washington Nationals drafted him first overall in 2010, Harper played catcher and third base. The Nets moved him to the outfield to accelerate his path to the majors. Harper, now 30, has been there for more than a third of his .

He approaches this latest challenge like he does anything else: by constantly working at it, taking as many reps as possible. Stott, a Las Vegas native, has been watching Harper since she was a child, but only recently gained a fuller understanding of the work ethic involved in Harper's preparation.

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“Going through high and college, I knew I needed some sort of routine,” Stott said. “He's very to a T—you almost know what he's up to when he's doing something.”

However, Harper doesn't think younger players need to emulate him. He wants each teammate to find what works for them, whether they learn it from him or Trey Turner or Schwarber or Realmuto.

“You never want to anybody,” Harper said as he works to enact the change he desires. It's that difference, and it's the sport-wide change working toward embracing a greater level of individuality — as long as it's geared toward winning — that Harper lives up to and impresses.

Players may have the same goal but different ways of getting there.

“It takes a few years to come into your own and figure out what works for you,” Harper said.

Harper's method is effort. When he was 19, it could seem like he was stealing home runs and occasionally hitting walls at full speed. Now in addition to batting practice, pre-game work is being done, taking fielding throws, fungo from the second.

There is no one to watch it these days. They are praising it.

“What he's done to come back is remarkable,” Long said. “I mean, he's worked hard to be here and be a part of this team. So yeah, he's a role model for not only our team but a lot of people in baseball.