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September 26, 2017

Bryce Harper returns from injury at his own personal home run playing ground, Citizens Bank Park

The Phillies’ extended stay at home this month – aside from their weekend getaway to Atlanta – saw some of the game’s most prolific home run hitters come through Citizens Bank Park.

Phils rookie Rhys Hoskins hasn’t homered in 11 games (38 at-bats), but still ranks second among major league players (min. 125 plate appearances) with an 8.6 home run rate (at-bats per home run). Oakland’s Matt Olson (7.9) ranks first, Giancarlo Stanton (10.0) ranks fourth, and Cody Bellinger (11.9) ranks 8th.

Bryce Harper is a bit further down the list (13.9, 18th) but not many players have hit more home runs at a better rate in South Philly than Harper has since he broke into the big leagues five years ago. The 24-year-old Nationals All-Star outfielder was activated from the disabled list prior to Tuesday night’s game against the Phillies.

It’s probably a good thing for the Nats that Harper’s first game in 45 days (after suffering what looked to be a gruesome knee injury) will come at his own personal stomping grounds, Citizens Bank Park. Harper owns a career .296/.361/.627 slash line with 12 home runs, five doubles, and three triples in 38 career games/142 at-bats at the Phillies’ 14-year-old ballpark.

Harper has hit nine home runs in his last 17 games at CBP.

He’s batting second and playing right field in Dusty Baker’s lineup against Jake Thompson and the Phillies. Harper was a potential MVP candidate (slashing .326/.419/.614, 29 home runs, 87 RBI) when he was injured (both his knee and calf) tripping over a slick first base on Aug. 12.

“I’m excited,” Harper said of his somewhat miraculous return, given how bad the injury looked at first sight. “As everyone knows it could have been a lot worse, with the impact of the injury. So I’m excited to get back and with the team. That’s the biggest thing, to get out there and try to enjoy it.”

While the Phillies have begun to pack boxes in the home clubhouse at CBP in preparation for beginning their offseason on Sunday night, Harper and the star-studded, National League East champion Nationals are getting ready for what they hope will be a long and fruitful October. The Nats are nearly locked into a first-round matchup with the defending World Champion Chicago Cubs (while the Los Angeles Dodgers would play host to the winner of the wild-card playoff game).

Harper insisted he’s “pain-free” as he begins what amounts to a mini-spring training/rehab assignment in the final week of the regular season.

“I wouldn’t be out there, I wouldn’t be playing, or playing in the postseason,” he said. “If I wasn’t pain-free, I’d see you guys next year.”

It remains to be seen if Harper will be deployed in the next two nights in Philly as if he was actually playing in a spring exhibition game. Perhaps three to five innings tonight, five to seven innings on Wednesday, with him progressing to full back-to-back games over the weekend.

“I think we’re just going to build up the best we can,” he said. “I feel fine right now. Of course, it’s only a handful of pitches I’ve seen, but I can feel great and go 0-for-4 and I can feel terrible and go 0-for-4. So I’m not really worried about the results right now, I’m just trying to feel good, make sure my calf is OK and my knee is OK and just get in there and help the team as much as possible.”

Notable for Tuesday night: Harper doesn’t have a home run yet in five at-bats against Jake Thompson. What he does have, though, is a flair for the dramatic (he has five home runs in five career games on Opening Day) and a taste for South Philadelphia.

Since making his big league debut in 2012, Harper has hit a home run in every 11.83 at-bats at Citizens Bank Park (12 home runs in 142 at-bats). That ranks third among visiting players during that time (min. 100 at-bats), behind Lucas Duda (a home run every 10.53 at-bats) and Nationals teammate Jayson Werth (a home run every 11.4 at-bats).

The Phillies may only have to deal with Harper at CBP regularly for one more year: he is eligible to become a free agent after the 2018 season. Then again, maybe he's liked hitting enough here to consider South Philly his next permanent baseball home?

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

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