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May 05, 2023

What they're saying: Bryce Harper's unexpected problem with the pitch clock

Plus the speed of his return in context, Trea Turner's return to Los Angeles, and continued pitching woes for the Phils.

The Phillies looked like they were beginning to gain a foothold in the 2023 season, and just in time for Bryce Harper to return to the lineup. Then a devastating series sweep out in Los Angeles presented a brutal wakeup call

The pitching still has issues, Harper is going to need some time to shake the rust off, and even though they've climbed back to hover around the .500 mark after the first month of the season, there's still much for the club to iron out. 

Here's what they're saying about the Phillies as they return home this weekend for a three-game set against the Red Sox:

The first 30 

Jayson Stark | The Athletic ($)

The first 30 days of the Major League season brought plenty to take away from. 

The pitch clock has sped games up dramatically, the Rays are extremely good, the Athletics are extremely bad and on their way out of Oakland, and Shohei Ohtani is lining up to make a ridiculous amount of money this winter. 

In his column over at The Athletic, Jayson Stark touched on of all of it but also honed in on just how unique and improbably fast Bryce Haprer's return from Tommy John surgery was. 

From the day of surgery on November 23, Harper made it back to the Phillies' lineup in five months and nine days with his season debut Tuesday night in Los Angeles. 

And using Jon Roegele’s Tommy John database to go back through the past 10 years of position players to undergo the surgery, Stark quickly discovered that Harper was the fastest to make it back, and it wasn't even close, having Ohtani's recovery beat by more than eight weeks. 

He's a once-in-a-lifetime exception, who continually finds new ways to impress the baseball world.

Wrote Stark, with input from an anonymous exec:

Now you can’t overlook the fact that there’s a reason no one else has made it back this fast. The quicker any player tries to push his rehab calendar, the more reinjury risk there is. That’s just a fact. But that’s only one subplot. Here’s the other:

Harper’s strength of purpose and willingness to do this has attracted the attention of the entire industry.

“You know, people have said a lot of things about Bryce Harper over the years,” said one of the execs quoted earlier. “How he carries himself. The brashness. Cover of Sports Illustrated at 14 or 15 years old. But no one has ever said Bryce Harper is not a good teammate or doesn’t care about winning.

“For him to just say, ‘You know what? I’m going to break the all-time record for how fast I come back from this.’ And 2, ‘If you want me to go work at first base, I’ll go do it, because Rhys Hoskins tore his ACL, and we need a first baseman, and it’s the right thing to do. And it doesn’t matter that I’ve never played there before. I’ll figure it out.’ That’s amazing." [The Athletic, $]

The early risks

Corey Seidman | NBC Sports Philadelphia

Harper's return wasn't without leveled expectations though. 

The Phillies knew there was going to be rust, and they knew he was going to need time to adjust to the pitch clock. What they weren't ready for, however, was the pitch clock interfering with his ability to put on the protective arm brace once he was on base. 

Wrote Corey Seidman on the new problem that arose Wednesday night against the Dodgers:

In the ninth inning Wednesday afternoon at Dodger Stadium, Bryce Harper singled with two outs. Harper, who returned Tuesday after undergoing Tommy John surgery in late November, will be wearing a large brace on his right arm when on the basepaths this season. 

The problem was that he was not permitted enough time to put the brace on after reaching base in the ninth. He had less than 25 seconds to try to put it on before the next pitch was thrown to Nick Castellanos. He ended up sliding into home plate on Bryson Stott's game-tying single and was fortunately able to do so with his right arm off the ground.

Pretty dangerous. If Harper were to slide the wrong way or collide with a fielder, he's at risk of rupturing his surgically repaired elbow.

"He didn't have time to get his guard on in the ninth inning and that scared me a little bit," manager Rob Thomson said after the Phillies' walk-off, 10-6 loss. 

"Really, they should amend the rule to a certain degree to have a superstar or anybody who has an issue with the guards or whatever, just give them extra time. Have a feel for it so they're not going to injure them." [NBCSP]

Seidman added that Harper and the Phillies took the issue up with the commissioner's office but were told that there would be no adjustment to the rule. 

L.A. dreaming

Fabian Ardaya | The Athletic ($)

Trea Turner made his return to Los Angeles earlier this week, and with the visit came the thought of "what if" and what it would've really taken to get the star shortstop to stay a Dodger. 

L.A. does have a need at the position now with Gavin Lux out for the year with a torn ACL, and there apparently was consideration on Turner's end in coming back, but with him undoubtedly commanding a high price tag this past winter, and the Dodgers looking to cut back on payroll, they never put together an offer. 

He became too expensive for L.A., but not for the Phillies. 

Wrote Fabian Ardaya on Turner's ties to the Dodgers:

This belies the fact the Dodgers could’ve swayed them to stay. The club reportedly tried to extend [Corey Seager] and made a push to sign him even after trading for Turner. They had some preliminary discussions with Turner’s camp heading into that winter as well, and Turner went into last spring discussing with his wife, Kristen, what it would take to convince them to stay in Los Angeles.

Though Turner had grown up in Florida and was enticed by staying close to home, he had enjoyed his time with the Dodgers. He liked the staff, the culture. The winning. Being on the West Coast didn’t completely rule them out — after all, he’d entertained an offer from another West Coast team, he said. The Padres offered him $42 million more than he wound up taking from the Phillies.

The Dodgers didn’t make a formal extension offer, Turner said, communicating as much shortly before Opening Day 2022. When Turner hit free agency, the Dodgers were “definitely in my top few teams,” he said. But, save for a few calls early in the winter, the Dodgers didn’t express much interest.

“I definitely would’ve considered it, would’ve entertained it,” Turner said. “I thought they would be in on me, they weren’t.

“From the conversations I had, they told me they would be there in free agency.”

Did that surprise him that they weren’t?

“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t know if surprise is the right word.” [The Athletic, $]

If you'll remember, too, rumors of the Turner to the Phillies began early last summer, picked up heavily after the Phils' run to the NL pennant, and came with the obvious connections of reuniting him with Harper, Kyle Schwarber, and hitting coach Kevin Long on a competitive team. 

All things considered, Turner signing with the Phillies seemed like an inevitabilitly, and even though he's been struggling of late, you'll be hard-pressed to find any Philadelphia fan complaining about that. 

As for what to tell the Dodgers in this scenario: No take backs.

Another sooner-than-expected return?

Scott Lauber | The Philadelphia Inquirer

Ranger Suárez is working his way back from injury on a minor-league rehab assignment and ideally, the Phillies would like him to have four tune-up starts – with the last reaching at least 90 pitches – before bringing him back into the rotation. 

But with Taijuan Walker and Bailey Falter both struggling in the middle of it, their starting pitching needs some serious help right now, which might force them to try and speed things up.

Wrote Scott Lauber on Suárez's current status:

So, Suárez is lined up for 70-75 pitches Sunday in Syracuse, N.Y., for triple-A Lehigh Valley, the third start in his comeback from a spring-training elbow strain.

And beyond that?

“If he comes out of that pretty good, or good, then we’ll have to replan here,” manager Rob Thomson said Wednesday before the Phillies wrapped up their series in Los Angeles.


With days off Thursday and next Monday and Thursday, the Phillies could skip Strahm in his next turn through the rotation. They won’t need a fifth starter until May 16 in San Francisco. But Thomson said nothing will be decided until after they speak with Strahm.

Suárez’s progress could impact the plan, too.

“The most important thing is to be healthy,” Suárez said through a team interpreter last week before heading to the minors. “I want to feel healthy. I think that the more innings I throw, the better it’s going to be for me because I’m going to be more ready.”

Ready or not, Suárez could return sooner than expected. [The Inquirer]

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