1st impression: Harper makes diving grab in debut

Bryce Harper lays out for incredible catch in 1st game at 1st base (0:24)

Bryce Harper launches himself into the netting to make a terrific catch in his debut at first base. (0:24)

  • ESPN News Services

Jul 21, 2023, 04:11 PM ET

CLEVELAND — Bryce Harper enjoyed feeling the soft infield dirt under his cleats.

The floor of the camera well wasn’t as welcomed.

Harper made a stunning catch in foul territory in his first career start at first base, but the Cleveland Guardians ended Philadelphia’s interleague winning streak at 12 games by edging the Phillies 6-5 on Friday night.

The Phillies moved Harper, a two-time MVP and normally an outfielder, to first base ahead of the trade deadline to see if he could handle the position. Harper wasted no time in showing he’s more than capable.

“He looked pretty comfortable,” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said. “He didn’t look out of place.”

In the third inning, Harper ran into foul territory and snagged Amed Rosario’s foul pop before tumbling into an empty photographers pit — a moment Thomson joked made his heart skip and likely drew gasps from Phillies fans everywhere.

“I feel fine,” said Harper, who had a red welt on his lower back. “I thought there was more netting there than there was. I kind of reached and saw the ball and thought I was going to land in that netting, but landed in that camera well or whatever it was.”

Philadelphia squandered some early scoring chances and lost for just the fourth time in its past 19 road games. The Phillies also finished one win shy of matching the record of 13 consecutive interleague wins shared by the New York Yankees (2003-04), Tampa Bay (2004), Miami (2013-14) and the Los Angeles Dodgers (2017).

But Philadelphia got its long-awaited look at Harper as an infielder, and he made quite a first impression.

Harper, who recovered more quickly than expected from Tommy John surgery last year, spent the past few weeks preparing for the move to first by working with infield coach Bobby Dickerson. And as if the baseball gods wanted to see if he was ready, Cleveland’s Steven Kwan led off the first by hitting a bouncer toward the All-Star slugger.

Harper fielded it cleanly and flipped the ball to pitcher Ranger Suárez covering for the out.

“It was good to be back out there,” Harper said. “I missed playing in the field. It’s been a year and half so it was nice to be in the flow of the game. I felt good and felt prepared. It was good.”

Not every player could handle a position switch like the one Harper is undertaking.

But he’s not like most players.

“He expects a lot out of himself, that’s for sure,” Thomson said. “But I think it helps being experienced, being able to handle that as opposed to a younger player that hasn’t accomplished much yet. I think he’ll be fine.”

With Harper at first, the Phillies can use Kyle Schwarber as their designated hitter. Nick Castellanos started Friday’s game in right, and Philadelphia recalled Jake Cave from Triple-A Lehigh Valley to play left.

If Harper shows he can hold things down at first, the Phillies could pursue a right-handed-hitting outfielder via trade.

A seven-time All-Star and one of baseball’s most dynamic players, Harper is batting .294 with four homers and 26 RBIs in 64 games.

Guardians manager Terry Francona was confident Harper can make the position switch without any difficulty.

“From watching him for years, he looks to me like a semi-decent athlete,” Francona joked. “He’s had time to work at it and I’m sure they wouldn’t put him out there until they were comfortable he were going to be able to do it.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.