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March 09, 2023

Bryce Harper isn't rushing his return to the Phillies

Bryce Harper said he feels good in his rehab from Tommy John surgery but acknowledged that he still has a long way to go before returning to the lineup.

Bryce Harper is in Clearwater and said he's feeling good post-Tommy John surgery.

He's getting his workouts in, taking dry swings with the bat, and generally looks to be trending upward in his rehab. 

But he's staying patient. He's never had to deal with an injury like a torn UCL before – many position players haven't – nor the lengthy recovery process that comes with repairing it. He isn't rushing this, seemingly at peace with the fact that it's going to be a good while before he can return to the Phillies' lineup. 

"I got a long ways to go," Harper told the media Thursday under the sunny Florida skies. "Just trying to take it day by day, be grateful for the day that I'm in, grateful for the workout that I'm doing or that next step, just really trying to hit every mark, hit every step, and go from there."

Harper suffered the partial UCL tear in his right arm in April of last season. He couldn't throw but was still able to swing a bat, using the designated hitter spot to still help power the Phillies to a Wild Card berth and then an unreal postseason run that resulted in a pennant and NLCS MVP honors.

But the whole time, he and the Phillies knew that the current circumstances were always going to be a possibility afterward, and they quickly became reality. 

In late November, Harper underwent the reconstructive Tommy John surgery, performed by specialist Dr. Neal ElAttrache, with aim from the Phillies to have him back as the DH by the All-Star break this summer and, in the best case scenario, make a possible return to right field by the end of the 2023 regular season. 

Harper said Thursday that he still feels good about that goal, but wasn't willing to commit to any specific timeline. Again, he's never navigated an injury like this before and doesn't want to hurry the recovery along. 

Also, thank goodness for the NL DH.

"Yeah, as of now," Harper said of targeting the All-Star break for his return. "But things can change either way. I can be after, I can be before. As of right now, that's the date that we've kind of solidified and we're not gonna rush. 

"We're gonna be smart about it. We knew at the end of the year last year, and me playing through it the whole year, that this might happen, so we're thankful for the DH again. I mean, I was so against it, right? But I'm all about it and I love doing it too, so we'll get out there when I can."

And while the Phillies are extremely likely to get by in the meantime, after an offseason that improved the rotation, bullpen, and a still stacked lineup that features Kyle Schwarber, Rhys Hoskins, J.T. Realmuto and now Trea Turner, they can't wait to have him back either, especially if he can make as big of an impact in a postseason run like he did last fall. 

"Everyone just looks really strong and really ready to go," Harper said of his current read on the team. 


• The Phillies' top priority is to get Harper back fully healthy and hitting again. A look at a return to the field will come after. 

On whether he thinks there's a chance that will happen in 2023, Harper said: "I think it just depends on how I'm feeling. I don't think we're gonna rush back the throwing part because we kind of don't have to at this point. 

"But of course, I want to play the outfield. I want to be back out there and be in front of the fans in right field and doing my stuff and hearing it from all the other teams in the league too...I miss the feeling of throwing a guy out or chasing down a ball, so looking forward to that when that day comes, but I don't wanna look ahead or think about looking ahead until we get to that point."

• When Harper does finally return, he'll step into the batter's box with a pitch clock counting down, a new rule he won't have the benefit of a full spring training to get used to. On that front, he simply said he's "just gotta figure it out."

• Harper and Turner, the Phillies' big $300 million splash of the offseason, were both teammates back in Washington, and when Harper got the call from owner John Middleton that the star shortstop was coming over, he couldn't have been happier. 

"Yeah, John called me and said 'Hey, we got your friend!' And I went 'You gotta be kidding me right now!'" He said." Really excited. Trea is such an unbelievable player...

"People in Philadelphia are gonna love this guy just because of his demeanor and the way he plays. He plays through injuries, he plays hard, he never wavers, just a lot of fun to be able to have him back on my team, our team, and to be able to see him play from our dugout is gonna be a lot of fun."

Harper said he also loved the moves to bolster the bullpen and the addition of Taijuan Walker to the starting rotation in team president Dave Dombrowski's efforts to set the club up for a run back to the World Series. 

"You can go on and on about the job Dave Dombrowski has done for us," Harper said. 

• Harper and San Diego Padres third baseman Manny Machado both signed mega deals during the offseason in 2019, but with an opt-out clause looming, Machado was able to parlay his contract into an 11-year, $350 million extension last month. 

Along with the other major free-agent signings made over the winter, Harper said it was good for the players and good for baseball in turn, but unlike Machado, his 13-year, $330 million pact with the Phillies never included an opt-out. 

And he's fine with that. It's what he wanted. 

"I made the decision to stay with the team for a long time," Harper said. "I think being able to stay with an organization for a long time, let the fans know that I was gonna be here for a long time, that was my main thing. I didn't want to have to go through all the craziness of 'Where's he going? What's he gonna do? Where's he going? What's he gonna do?' I wanted this organization, this team to know, and the fans to know, that I was gonna be here for the long haul no matter what."

Now 30, Harper is going into Year 5 of 13 in his contract. He'll be 38 by the time it's over, and he intends on seeing it all the way through. 

"I want to play well into my 40s," he said. "That's always been the dream and the goal. I'm here until I'm 38, so we'll see what happens."

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