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Bryce Harper Knows His Way Around First Base

Bryce Harper makes a forceout at first base
Nick Cammett/Getty Images

This much we know after over a decade of watching Bryce Harper in the majors: He is a good athlete. And so even though the idea of suddenly playing a brand-new position where a bunch of powerful lefties smash line drives at your face might be the stuff of nightmares for standard, uncoordinated folk, it stands to reason that, if you're as in tune with your body as Harper, you may be a little more quick to adjust.

Still, I don't think even the most worshipful of Harper's abilities could have imagined that he'd be this comfortable at first base, this fast. The Phillies DH, who played right field until a UCL injury early last year, started preparing to play the unfamiliar position after Rhys Hoskins suffered his ACL tear, and in order to spell Kyle Schwarber from having to play in the outfield every day. The plan is for Harper to play about half his games there moving forward, and the experiment officially began on Friday in Cleveland. Despite his many, many years of playing baseball in a different spot, he looked as comfortable as a cat in a cardboard box. He calmly fielded a grounder on the very first batter, went down to his knees to snare a line drive in the second, and in the third, got to use a bit of his old acrobatic outfield skills to track down a pop fly in a fenced-off danger zone just in front of the seats.

“I thought there was more netting there than there was,” Harper said.

On Sunday, in a game the Phillies actually won to snap a losing streak of four, the new man on the right side of the infield did everything he could to prove his first start wasn't a fluke. There was one hiccup on a high throw that got Alec Bohm charged with an error, but otherwise, Harper defended the Guardians with quickness and confidence. Here's a little collection of nice moves from the Phillies broadcast during the bottom of the sixth:

And in the eighth, he stared down the bane of a fielder's existence—a Steven Kwan bunt—and didn't panic or forget his communication skills.

“He’s an athlete, and he’s a baseball player,” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said. “He watches the game, he’s a student. … He looks like he’s been there before.”

"He’s got a lot of pep in his step over there,” said Sunday's starter, Aaron Nola.

It's tempting to call this aptitude for first something like magic: You see a guy do one thing for over a decade, and all of a sudden you see him doing something very different. But the way in which he's filled this hole is a testament to countless hours of practice and prep, and baseball instincts honed by a life spent breathing the game. Physically and mentally, Bryce Harper was ready for this weekend. Those of us who see this and think, hm, maybe playing first isn't so hard could not dream of being that prepared for anything.

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