Harper activated, batting 3rd for '23 debut tonight in LA

May 2nd, 2023

LOS ANGELES --  sought motivation as he scanned the Phillies' schedule a few months ago.

He came upon May 1-3, Phillies vs. Dodgers, Dodger Stadium.

He circled it. It became his target to return from Tommy John surgery he underwent on Nov. 23. The Phillies issued a statement in November saying they hoped Harper might be back by the All-Star break. It was a purposefully conservative timeline, because Harper and others always believed he would return earlier than that.

But to improve his chances, Harper needed a goal. So, he chose the Phillies’ May 1-3 series in Los Angeles as the series to rejoin the team.

He nailed it.

Harper was activated from the 10-day injured list before Tuesday night’s game against the Dodgers, with outfielder Jake Cave optioned to Triple-A Lehigh Valley to make room. He was batting third as the Phillies' DH, providing a jolt to a team that has won 10 of its last 15 games.

“It’s a month into the season,” Harper said Monday afternoon. “I just think, really, having five months to play this game, I mean, it helps everybody on this field. It felt like I could have been back two weeks ago, possibly. Anytime before that July mark, I was trying to push for. I was very happy that we were able to get to this point.

“I put my head to where I needed to be, understanding, 'OK, I need to take it one day at a time.' Understanding that we could have setbacks, we could feel great. But I wanted to put the earliest I could in my mind to understand I need to work toward something to get out there. It could have been the middle of April. It could have been early May. It could have been the end of May. But I wanted to put my mind on something and really take advantage of that.”

Harper has felt great almost every step of the way, setting up his follow-up appointment Monday morning with orthopedist Dr. Neal ElAttrache, who performed Harper’s surgery in Los Angeles.

It would have been stunning if ElAttrache did not clear Harper to play. Momentum toward his return seemed unstoppable.

Expectedly, ElAttrache gave Harper the green light. Harper alerted everybody to the good news with an Instagram post.

Harper is full-go, but he will take precautions. He will continue to hit with the same brace that he wore on his right arm last season, including the postseason. He will be encouraged to slide feet-first, but he has been cleared to slide headfirst.

“I’m healed the way I need to be as of right now,” Harper said. “But there’s always that risk. Whenever you have a major surgery, anything can happen. Something could happen. A tag on me. I slide into a bag. Anything. But I got word today it wouldn’t matter from right now today to two months. We’re in the same spot that we would be. We’re healed to where I need to be. We’re just going to play the game smart and play it the right way.”

Harper will continue his throwing program, with a potential eye toward playing first base a few months from now.

But that’s the future. Harper DH-ing on Tuesday is the present.

It is happening without Harper taking a single at-bat in a rehab assignment. Harper has faced live pitching for weeks, from rehabbing big leaguers like Ranger Suárez and Nick Nelson to Minor Leaguers, as well as facing a high-tech pitching machine at Citizens Bank Park.

The Phillies estimate Harper has had 50 of those at-bats.

“We have so many superstars on this team, we have so many great players on this team, all I have to do is just be myself,” Harper said.