Harper, Sánchez in spotlight as Deadline approaches

July 15th, 2023

PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies opened the second half of their schedule Friday night with an 8-3 loss to the Padres at Citizens Bank Park. It included the longest home-run trot of Juan Soto’s career and the Phillies ending the game with the bases loaded and in the on-deck circle, representing the tying run.

It was that kind of night.

“It looked like they were a little rusty,” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said. “But the ninth inning was encouraging.”

The Phillies started the game with Cristopher Sánchez on the mound, Darick Hall at first base and Kyle Schwarber in left field. The lineup card might not look like that after Aug. 1, Major League Baseball’s Trade Deadline. It might not look like that come next week, either. Thomson said before Friday’s game that Harper is “pretty close” to making his 2023 debut at first base, though he added after the game that it will not happen until next week at the earliest.

Whenever it happens, it will be an important development for the Phillies. They want to give Harper a good look at first base, because his performance there will impact how they operate before the Trade Deadline. If Harper looks like he can handle himself -- though they understand mistakes might be made early -- they might turn their attention to finding a corner outfielder, with the idea that Schwarber could see more time at DH in the second half.

A right-handed-hitting corner outfielder seems to make the most sense.

“I want to be really good over there, not just for myself, but for the team and the guys out there,” Harper said last weekend in Miami. “I don’t want to just go over there and, ‘Hey, this is great. I’m out here.’ No, I want to be really good over there. If we did make a move or something, if it’s a first baseman or third baseman or outfielder, we’re going to get a really good player. Like I said, I need to play good over there -- and I want to be good over there, not just go out there and play.”

For what it’s worth, the Phillies think Harper can handle it.

“I think in time, he’s going to be really good,” Thomson said. “He’s athletic, his glove skills are really good, he moves his feet, he’s reading hops. The thing we have to move through as this thing goes on is just situational -- cuts and relays, bunt plays, that type of thing. We have no other way to do it, other than put him in a game.”

But the Phillies have other considerations before Aug. 1. Sánchez allowed three hits, three runs and one walk and struck out five in five innings against the Padres. He allowed a solo home run to Gary Sánchez and a mammoth two-run homer to Fernando Tatis Jr. in the third.

Sánchez has been a godsend since he rejoined the Phillies’ rotation on June 17. He has a 2.77 ERA (eight earned runs in 26 innings) in five starts.

But the Phillies might try to improve the No. 5 spot in the rotation anyway, either by making a more incremental upgrade, like Jordan Montgomery, Dylan Cease, Jack Flaherty or Michael Lorenzen, or by going bigger, with options like Marcus Stroman or Lucas Giolito.

“I don’t really focus on that,” Sánchez said through the team’s interpreter. “I just focus on pitching well any time I get an opportunity to do so.”

Nobody would be surprised if Dave Dombrowski went big before Aug. 1. Pipe dream or not, it explains why some people are connecting the Phillies to Nolan Arenado, who has four years and $109 million left on his contract after this season, and Paul Goldschmidt, who has one year and $26 million left on his deal, although the Cardinals have said they “hope” to keep their core intact this summer.

Hope doesn’t mean “definitely,” of course.

The only thing that seems definite is Harper’s move to first base in the near future. What happens with the roster after that is mostly up to Dombrowski and the front office.