Harper settling in at first for Phillies; Muncy takes a hit in Yamamoto spring debut for Dodgers

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Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Bryce Harper fields the ball during the second inning of a spring training baseball game against the Atlanta Braves Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024, in Clearwater, Fla. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Bryce Harper is getting settled in as full-time first baseman for the Philadelphia Phillies.

Harper hit a hard single in his first spring training at-bat Wednesday, but the two-time NL MVP also flashed some leather at first base in a 7-7 tie against Atlanta. Harper made a diving catch on Jarred Kelenic’s grounder in the first inning, and started nifty 3-6-3 on a 105.3 mph grounder by Kelenic in the third.

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“Both of them were real good,” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said. “He looks very comfortable and he’s improving every day.”

Harper had Tommy John surgery in November 2022 and made his season debut last May 2 as a designated hitter. An outfielder the previous 11 seasons, his return to the field July 21 was at first base, where he started 36 times in the regular season and 13 in the playoffs.

“The sky’s the limit for me because he’s athletic,” Thomson said. “He’s calm, poised. A lot of a lot of good things can happen.”

Former Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins tore his left ACL in a spring training game last March, and left in free agency after the season.


Before Japanese sensation Yoshinobu Yamamoto threw the first pitch in an impressive spring training debut for the Dodgers against World Series champion Texas, Los Angeles third baseman Max Muncy got hit by a pitch on his left hand in the top of the first inning.

Manager Dave Roberts said the ball hit Muncy on the knuckle of his ring finger and that the veteran was getting tests.

“I’m hopeful that it’s not going to be too serious," Roberts said.

After getting hit by left-hander Cody Bradford, Muncy stayed in the game to play defense, and was replaced in the fourth inning by Austin Gauthier before his second at-bat. A mainstay in the middle of the Dodgers order the past six seasons, Muncy hit 36 homers and had 105 RBIs last year.

Yamamoto struck out three batters over two scoreless innings.


There was a mix of cheers and boos when new Chicago Cubs manager Craig Counsell returned to his old spring training home for the first time.

The Cubs won 6-1 on the road Wednesday against the Milwaukee Brewers, the NL Central rival Counsell managed the past nine seasons.

“It's weird seeing him in those colors, but that's what reality is right now,” said new Brewers manager Pat Murphy, who was on Counsell's staff the past eight years.

Brewers shortstop Willy Adames went across the field to hug Counsell before the game.

Budget-conscious Milwaukee won three NL Central titles and made five playoff appearances the past six years before Counsell’s contract expired. The Cubs lured him away with a five-year contract worth more than $40 million that made him the highest-paid manager the majors.


Sonny Gray will be the first Cardinals pitcher since Kyle Lohse in 2008 to make his debut for the Cardinals with a start on opening day.

“I don’t take that lightly at all,” said Gray, the veteran right-hander who signed a $75 million, three-year deal in November. “I appreciate the opportunity and what that shows.”

Gray finished second in the AL Cy Young Award voting last season, when he was 8-8 with a 2.79 ERA in 32 starts for Minnesota. The Cardinals also added former All-Stars Kyle Gibson and Lance Lynn to their rotation in free agency.

St. Louis, coming off its first losing season since 2007, opens March 28 on the road against Shohei Ohtani and the Dodgers.


Pittsburgh pitching prospect Paul Skenes, the top pick in last year’s amateur draft, is to make his spring training debut on Thursday when the Pirates face Baltimore and Jackson Holliday, the No. 1 selection last summer.

The 21-year-old Skenes had a 5.40 ERA with 10 strikeouts and two walks in 6 2/3 innings in limited action in the minors after signing a record $9.2 million bonus to join Pittsburgh.

While the Pirates have a couple of open spots in their starting rotation, it's likely the hard-throwing Skenes will begin his first full season as a professional in the minors. He was 12-2 with a 1.69 ERA and 209 strikeouts in 122 2/3 innings last spring while playing for national champion LSU.


The Cleveland Guardians are shutting down reliever Trevor Stephan for three weeks with a deep bruise in his right elbow. Stephan, who appeared in 71 games last season, experienced soreness during a recent training session in Goodyear, Arizona. An MRI revealed the bruising.

Manager Stephen Vogt said Stephan has no structural or ligament issues.

The 28-year-old Stephan went 7-7 with a 4.06 ERA last season.


Nationals right-hander Mason Thompson will undergo Tommy John surgery for the second time.

Thompson first had the ligament replacement surgery when he was in high school. Now 26 and coming off 51 appearances for the Nationals last season, he felt a pop in his elbow at the start of spring training two weeks ago.

Manager Dave Martinez said Thompson will have the surgery on Friday.


Giants right-hander Tristan Beck returned to San Francisco to see doctors after dealing with lingering soreness in his right hander.

“He’s kind of been pitching through it a bit," San Francisco manager Bob Melvin said. “It just got to a point where we want to find out exactly what it is.”

Beck made his big league debut last season by going 3-3 with a 3.92 ERA in 33 games for the Giants. While he started only three of those games, he is expected to be part of their rotation this year.

Meanwhile, Giants outfielder Mike Yastrzemski made his spring debut Wednesday going 0 for 2 with a walk in their 7-4 loss to Oakland. There are no restrictions at the plate even though he is still building up his throwing from a left shoulder issue that developed during offseason workouts.


— The Yankees claimed infielder Jahmai Jones off waivers from the Brewers. Infielder Jordan Groshans was designated for assignment to make room on New York's 40-man roster.

— Sam Hilliard is back with Colorado after being claimed the outfielder off waivers from Baltimore. The Rockies cleared a spot on their 40-man roster by putting right-hander Antonio Senzatela on the 60-day injured list.

Hilliard played 214 games with the Rockies from 2019-22 before getting traded to Atlanta. He played 40 games with the Braves last season before Baltimore claimed him off waivers in November.

— San Diego agreed to a minor league contract with 31-year-old outfielder Tim Locastro, who hit .232 with two homers and three RBIs and six stolen bases in 43 games and 67 plate appearances with the New York Mets last year.


AP Baseball Writer David Brant, and AP Sports Writers Will Graves, Steve Megargee and Tom Withers, and AP freelance writer Mark Didtler contributed to this report.


AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/mlb

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