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April 21, 2023

Bryce Harper's return as DH could be near, will see doctor beginning of May

Harper will see Dr. Neal ElAttrache at the beginning of May and, if cleared, his return as DH "shouldn’t be too far after that," Rob Thomson said.

Somehow, some way, Bryce Harper has continued to speedrun through his rehab from Tommy John surgery.

On Tuesday in Chicago, he took live batting practice with Ranger Suárez, who is also trying to make his way back from injury, on the mound. 

On Thursday back in Philadelphia, he took more live BP, caught throws from Trea Turner and Bryson Stott at first base, and for the first time since suffering his partial UCL tear last April, threw a baseball himself from 60 feet out

The Phillies superstar is moving along and fast. 

The initial estimate for Harper's return from the reconstructive surgery on his elbow back in November was around the All-Star break later this summer and as a designated hitter only. 

The DH condition remains in place, but from where things stand right now as far as the timeline goes, he'll see Dr. Neal ElAttrache – baseball's top orthopedist who performed the surgery – in Los Angeles at the beginning of May when the Phillies will be out that way for a West Coast road trip. 

And if all goes well...

“If we get clearance from the doctor, we’ll see when he can start DH’ing,” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said (via The Inquirer's Scott Lauber). “But it shouldn’t be too far after that.”

Buckle up. 

When he reported to Clearwater back in March, Harper said he wasn't going to rush his return back to the Phillies' lineup, but his progress in the time since has clearly indicated that he intends to beat whatever timeline might've been in place for him. 

On April 5, when the Phillies were in the Bronx to face the Yankees, he began taking batting practice from the field again, and has had pretty much free rein to swing the bat ever since, to the point where Thomson even said he looked ready to at least take minor-league at-bats

He also began learning to play first base, even though he still couldn't throw yet, knowing that Rhys Hoskins was out for the season to maybe at least give the Phillies some more flexibility at some point down the line. 

The biggest remaining hangup, however, has been sliding on the base paths. 

Harper has been doing light baserunning drills with an arm brace on and is cleared to take practice slides, but in a game, one bad collision with a fielder or too much impact on the elbow from sliding head-first too soon and he could be sent right back to square one. 

"The other stuff's fine," Thomson said on April 11. "Once he gets on base, we put a brace on him. But it's if he hits a double, we can't hand the brace off as he turns around first base, so that's really where it gets dangerous." 

But he's come a long way, much further and much faster than anyone could've expected, and his visit with Dr. ElAttrache in a couple of weeks could provide a clear picture of how much left there is to go. 

It may not be much. 

"It's all up to ElAttrache and what he feels," Harper said earlier this week. "I know the mark that he has in his mind and we'll go from there when I talk to him... But I'm gonna keep pushing the envelope and just try to do everything I can to get ready."

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