Harper readjusting, but 'extremely excited' to be back

May 3rd, 2023

LOS ANGELES -- There were enough Phillies fans at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday night that got cheered as he walked to home plate in the first inning for his first plate appearance of 2023.

Dodgers fans righted this wrong almost immediately. They booed.

It was nothing Harper had not heard before. In fact, he has heard far worse. But the fact he heard anything from any crowd on May 2 was nothing short of remarkable.

Harper rejoined the Phillies only 160 days following Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in November. He went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts in a 13-1 loss to the Dodgers.

It wasn’t the Hollywood opening Philadelphia wanted from Harper or his team -- the Phillies have been outscored 26-5 in the series with finishing both games on the mound -- but Harper’s early return means he can play in as many as 132 regular-season games this season.

It will get better.

“I understand it’s going to take me a minute,” Harper said. “You’re never excited for what just happened. You don’t want that to happen. I want the results to be better. Granted, I’m excited to be back, going through six months of grinding and hard work. To be able to get back today, I was extremely excited. Now we’re just rolling into a season and playing as many games as I can.”

Harper swung and missed a first-pitch slurve from Dodgers left-hander Julio Urías in the first inning. Urías expected Harper to swing.

“Yeah, obviously,” he said in Spanish. “I knew he had that hunger to show off what an amazing player he is. Last year, he got me and hit a homer off me, so I knew he was coming in with that confidence.”

Harper indeed hit a first-pitch, three-run home run against Urías at Dodger Stadium on May 14, 2022.

"I was just trying to get a pitch over the plate and do what I could,” Harper said. “He threw the ball extremely well tonight. That's the big leagues, right? You're going to face guys like that and they're going to be really good. He was that tonight."

Harper hit a check-swing ground ball to Dodgers third baseman Max Muncy in his second plate appearance in the fourth, which followed ’s solo home run to center. Harper struck out swinging on a 1-2 cutter in the sixth, and he struck out swinging again in the ninth.

Harper swung at the first pitch in each of his at-bats.

“I felt good,” Harper said. “I feel strong. It’s just pitch selection. I think that will come.”

“I thought the bat speed was there,” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said. “I thought he was on a lot of pitches. I really did. There’s going to be some timing stuff, recognizing breaking balls and things like that. This is big league pitching, but I thought he was good and he said he felt good.”

Harper rejoined the Phillies without the benefit of a rehab assignment, which was his preference. Instead, he faced live pitching from rehabbing pitchers Ranger Suárez and Nick Nelson, as well as Minor League pitchers.

The Phillies said it amounted to 50 at-bats. But it was not Urías. It was not in a game that mattered.

Tuesday was much different, obviously.

In fact, it was nothing like Harper had experienced before. These were his first plate appearances with a pitch timer. Harper was a deliberate worker in the past. He took his time walking to the plate. He took his time between pitches.

He cannot do that anymore. Now, he can only take one timeout per at-bat. He used three on Tuesday, including one to start his sixth-inning plate appearance.

“I mean, the biggest thing is, our whole lives, they’ve told us to slow the game down,” said Harper. “So, it’s going to be an adjustment for me. But it is what it is at this point. I’ll use my timeout when I need to. I took a long time from the on-deck circle to the batter’s box. Also, in between pitches I take a while. So, definitely an adjustment period. I’ve got to figure out what I want to do, how I want to do it.”

The results weren’t there Tuesday, but Harper wasn’t alone.

“It’s not the game we wanted to have, right?” he said.

He gets another crack at it Wednesday, many weeks and months ahead of what most expected.