Is there a chance Harper could be back by mid-May?

April 20th, 2023

PHILADELPHIA -- will have his highly anticipated follow-up with Dr. Neal ElAttrache in Los Angeles at the start of May. Is it actually possible that Harper could return to the lineup soon after?

"If we get clearance from the doctor, then we'll see when he can start DHing," manager Rob Thomson said prior to Thursday's series opener against the Rockies at Citizens Bank Park. "But it shouldn't be too far after that."

Of course, it's possible that Harper won't receive clearance in that next follow-up with Dr. ElAttrache, which Thomson said is scheduled for "right around the first of May." That coincides with the Phillies' trip to Los Angeles to face the Dodgers in a three-game series from May 1-3.

When Harper underwent Tommy John surgery on Nov. 23, the Phils said in a press release that they expected Harper to return as a DH by the All-Star break, which is July 10-13. So potentially returning not "too far after" a follow-up at the start of May would put Harper nearly two months ahead of that initial estimate.

As a frame of reference, however, Angels superstar Shohei Ohtani underwent Tommy John surgery on Oct. 1, 2018. He didn’t begin taking batting practice until March 27, 2019 -- nearly six months after the procedure. Harper took BP for the first time on April 5, just 4 1/2 months after his surgery.

Ohtani ultimately returned to the Angels’ lineup on May 7, 2019, approximately seven months after surgery. If Harper is truly six weeks ahead of Ohtani based on the batting practice timeline, then a 5 1/2-month timetable would put Harper back in mid-May.

Before penciling Harper into the Phillies’ lineup, though, keep in mind that Dr. ElAttrache may not sign off on letting Harper do everything he needs to do to get back on the field -- mainly full-intensity sliding into bases. Harper has been sliding feetfirst and doing modified diving back into the base.

"Even if I slide feetfirst and hit my right arm on the ground, I could sprain my arm and be out for five, six, seven months," Harper said on Tuesday in Chicago. "So there's no reason to rush that. I need to be smart in what I do and I'm not going to rush anything out there, because it does nothing good for our team or our organization if I come back the fastest and not the smartest."

That said, Harper seems to be progressing each day towards becoming one of the "fastest" to return from Tommy John surgery.

Harper's latest progression came when he threw Thursday afternoon for the first time since the procedure. He threw from 60 feet at moderate intensity, though throwing isn't something that's going to impact when he can return to the lineup because Harper will serve exclusively as the designated hitter when he first rejoins the club.

But that wasn’t all Harper did.

After starting that throwing program, Harper grabbed his bat to square off against High-A Jersey Shore right-hander Victor Vargas in live batting practice. That comes after Harper recently faced a pair of rehabbing big leaguers -- righty and lefty -- in live BP.

"What the plan is, really, is that we cover everything that we need to cover prior to that [appointment]," Thomson said. "And then we talk to the doctor and figure out when it's the best time to start DHing."

In the meantime, Harper will continue with his hitting program. He'll face Suárez in another session on Saturday, then more Minor Leaguers over the next couple of weeks. Harper is also hitting off a Trajekt Arc, a pitching machine that can replicate the release point, velocity and spin of any pitcher.

All of that will likely allow Harper to skip a Minor League rehab stint, though there figures to still be an adjustment period after being sidelined the entire offseason and Spring Training.

"It doesn't look like he's going to do a rehab assignment," Thomson said. "We've got all the stuff that we're doing here -- we're bringing in pitchers to simulate at-bats, we've got this new projection machine downstairs that you can put any pitcher on the planet on video and replicate his stuff -- so he can get at-bats down there. So we think, as far as DHing is concerned, we're covering all the bases."

Now, it’s simply a matter of when Harper will be cleared to slide into one.