Harper 'trying to leave that door open' for early return

Phillies star: 'This is the best I've felt coming into camp in my whole career'

March 22nd, 2023

CLEARWATER, Fla. --  sees no harm in keeping his options open.

Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said this week that Harper will not open the season on the 60-day injured list because the possibility exists that he will be back before the end of May. Dombrowski said if he had “no, no hope” that Harper could play in May, he would place him on the 60-day IL. Instead, Harper will open on the 10-day IL.

“Trying to leave that door open, just in case,” Harper said Wednesday morning at BayCare Ballpark. “If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. If it does, then great. Right?”

Harper had Tommy John surgery to repair the torn UCL in his right elbow on Nov. 23, and the Phillies said then that he could be back by the All-Star break in July. Sources at the time told MLB.com that Harper could be back in June.

Maybe he'll return even earlier.

“I think it’s just because I’m feeling good right now,” Harper said. “Like I told you guys at the beginning of camp, it could be after [the All-Star break], it could be before. If things keep progressing the way they are, then I feel good about [Dombrowski] saying what he did. If I have something that happens, then we’re pretty much on track for where we are.”

Harper takes 40 swings of soft toss every other day, and still wears the arm brace he wore during the 2022 season to prevent an overextension of the elbow. Harper’s next progression is taking 40 swings of soft toss on consecutive days.

He said he does not know when that will happen, although the other day he said it might not happen until April. Harper said Phillies athletic trainer Paul Buchheit has been tight-lipped with him because “I want to keep progressing, right? He always has to pull me back a little bit.”

If the Phillies placed Harper on the 60-day IL to start the season, he could not be activated until May 29 at the earliest. It would be an obviously regrettable decision if Harper’s recovery accelerated to the point that he believes he can play before May 29.

If the Phillies find themselves in a situation in the first couple months of the season when they need a 40-man roster spot and they know Harper will not be back before May 29, they can always retroactively place him on the 60-day IL.

“If he’s not on [the 60-day IL] and then on April 20 -- or pick a date that you want -- you think you need a roster spot and you know he’s not coming back, then you can always put him back [on the 60-day IL] retroactive to the day he first went on the IL,” Dombrowski said. “So it’s really not a great revelation other than to just say the reality is, I’m going to just keep our options open, because who knows what happens?

“He’s feeling great. He has no pain. He continues to work hard. But it’s just that situation, I have no idea. All I’ve said, and all I’ll continue to say: It’ll be before the All-Star break is our hope. But I’m also going to keep the option open that we’ll see what happens. But I have no idea what’s going to happen. But I don’t want to close that option. Because if I put him on [the 60-day IL], it’s closed.”

Harper will travel with the team throughout his recovery until he is ready to begin a rehab assignment.

“I feel great,” Harper said. “This is the best I’ve felt coming into camp in my whole career. My body feels amazing. Everything.”