After weeks and months of cautious optimism and ahead-of-schedule-updates, one of the most remarkable rehabilitations in baseball history is just about complete: Bryce Harper seems like he’s set to make his return to the Philadelphia Phillies lineup on Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Dodgers, just 160 days removed from undergoing Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow. At least if his Instagram is to be believed:
From Bryce Harper’s Instagram: pic.twitter.com/23Nqh8urxR— Alex Coffey (@byalexcoffey) May 1, 2023
The two-time MVP was set for a doctor’s visit on Monday in which he hoped to finally be cleared to return to game action. The Phillies have yet to make an official announcement, but an IG thirst trap feels official enough.
Harper was first diagnosed with a small tear in the UCL of his right (throwing) elbow back in May of last year. The team determined that he could play through it as a full-time DH rather than immediately undergoing surgery, and despite the injury — and a fractured thumb that cost him two more months — Harper was pretty much his usual self, slashing .286/.364/.514 with 18 homers and 11 steals in 99 games. He then caught fire during the Phillies’ magical postseason run, going 8-for-16 against the Atlanta Braves in the ALDS before hitting one of the most iconic homers in recent memory to send the team to the World Series.
BRYCE HARPER LEGACY HOME RUN— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) October 23, 2022
A few weeks after the Phillies’ loss to the Houston Astros, Harper finally underwent Tommy John surgery, with the hope that he could return in a DH capacity at some point around the All-Star break. But then spring rolled around, and Harper just ... kept advancing ahead of schedule. First it was swinging a bat, then it was working out on the field with his teammates, then it was taking batting practice, then it was a report that he wouldn’t even need a rehab stint in the Minors. Harper even started fielding ground balls at first base, not content to sit around as a full-time DH while his team weathered early injuries to Rhys Hoskins (torn ACL) and Darick Hall (torn ligament in his thumb).
And now he’s officially been cleared for his return, in what is quite possibly the quickest recovery from Tommy John surgery on record (even among position players). It’s unclear whether Harper will serve as the DH or whether we could see him make his first start at first. Regardless of where he plays, though, it’s a huge boon for a Philadelphia team that sits fourth in the NL East at 15-14.
Philly has actually swung the bats pretty well Harper’s absence, ranking sixth in baseball in team OPS thanks to Nick Castellanos’ resurgence and the emergence of guys like Bryson Stott and Brandon Marsh. (Slow starts from Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler have had much more to do with the team’s middling record so far.) Still, there’s no replacing a two-time MVP, and given Harper’s flare for the dramatic, we wouldn’t be surprised if he makes a run at a third this season.