Joe Girardi watched Bryce Harper field ground balls at third base last week during batting practice and was impressed by how his right fielder handled the hot corner.
“His hands worked out front really well, he was really accurate when he threw across the diamond, and I went up to him and said, ‘Man, you look good,’” Girardi said. “He said, ‘Do you think I’ll play third one day?’ I said, ‘We’ll probably keep you in right.’”
But that answer did not seem sufficient for Harper, who pestered Girardi to give him a look at third during an intrasquad scrimmage before the season begins.
“I said, ‘All right one inning. One inning. That’s it,” Girardi said.
Harper got his chance Monday night, playing third base for an inning as the Phillies scrimmaged themselves for five innings as a tuneup for their 60-game season. Nights like Monday -- just like the middle of spring training -- can use something like a $330 million outfielder moonlighting as a third baseman to break up the monotony.
Harper held his own at third on Monday and even made a nice stab on a grounder by Kyle Garlick to throw him out at first base. Harper was a third baseman as a youngster and still seems to have the fundamentals of the position. But Harper’s time at third base was likely just for one night only.
“I said, ‘There is no diving,‘ “ Girardi said. “He said ‘Instincts, skip.’ I said, ‘No. There is no diving.’ We made a pact.”
It’s not official yet, but Aaron Nola remains the favorite to pitch for the Phillies on July 24 against Miami in the season opener.
He totaled 47 pitches as he threw for the first time this summer in an intrasquad game. Nola’s arrival at summer camp was delayed after he was exposed to a person infected by COVID-19, which then put his status for the opener in question.
“I thought he threw the ball pretty well. I thought he lost his command a little bit at the end, which is probably normal,” Girardi said. “Just like any other spring training, they start to get a little fatigued at the end, but I thought he was pretty sharp. He went through the lineup pretty quick the first nine outs.”
As for the opener, Girardi said: “I think he’s definitely a possibility. Maybe we get him to 62 to 65 pitches the next time. Opening day, depending on how he feels as we continue to go through this, is still a possibility, I think.”
Zach Eflin’s chances to be ready for the start of the season received a boost on Sunday when the pitcher completed a bullpen session at the ballpark.
“He threw a beautiful ‘pen,” pitching coach Bryan Price said.
Eflin has been slowed in camp by back spasms but said this weekend that he’s on track for the season. The Phillies would likely need Eflin for the fourth or fifth game of the season, which places him two weeks from his season debut.
“There were no limitations,” Price said. “He threw it great, aggressive.”