CLEARWATER, Fla. — For most of the offseason, the Phillies have acted as if their 2023 lineup will need to be judged in two distinct halves, the first of which will not have a two-time MVP hitting in the middle of it.
Now, suddenly, there’s hope that Bryce Harper could potentially return to the active roster as soon as May. In fact, there’s a reasonable enough chance of it that Phillies president Dave Dombrowski told a local radio station on Tuesday morning that the team was not planning on putting Harper on the 60-day disabled list, which would sideline him until at least May 29.
“He’s doing great,” Dombrowski said in an interview with WIP-FM (94.1). “It’s really a situation where he is doing very well. I think, in our situation, we continually say that we anticipate him before the All-Star Game, which we think will happen. … Do I hope that he comes back before that? Sure, no question about it. We’re not going to put him on the emergency injured list, which would keep him out until May 29, because we’re going to keep our options open that he’ll come back.”
That’s a significant departure from the cautious tone that the Phillies have sounded ever since Harper underwent Tommy John surgery to repair a torn UCL in his throwing elbow in November. At the time, the team said only that they were expecting him back before the All-Star break. The conventional wisdom — informed in part by the previous recoveries of other players who underwent similar surgery — said that the Phillies would be playing without Harper for at least the first two and probably closer to the first three months of the season.
Now? To quote Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber: “So you’re telling me there’s a chance.”
That Harper would begin the season on the 60-day disabled list was presumed to be such a formality that nobody even asked Dombrowski about it on Sunday when he met with reporters in Clearwater. Two days later, he volunteered the information when asked for the latest on Harper. That’s a pretty good sign that Harper’s recovery has gone as quickly as anybody could hope.
“We’ll at least be in a position where you, because if you put him on [60-day injured list], that means he’s not coming back for sure until after [May 29],” Dombrowski said. “But at least you want to keep your options open at that case.”
Harper has been swinging the bat without pain for some time now. He won’t begin throwing for another month, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be able to return to the active roster in the designated hitter role that he played in for almost the entire 2022 season.
Dombrowski indicated that the Phillies have yet to target an exact date for Harper’s return.
“The one thing you never know about is setbacks with these types of things,” he said. “So that’s why having a specific time date is always very difficult.”
That’s why the Phillies were so vague in their initial prognosis on Harper after the season. And it’s why it is significant that they feel comfortable enough to talk publicly about an earlier return now.