Harper undergoes thumb surgery, return in '22 expected

June 29th, 2022

PHILADELPHIA -- Bryce Harper had surgery Wednesday morning to repair his broken left thumb.

Phillies interim manager Rob Thomson said it “went very well, and we expect him to be back at the end of the year.” A source told MLB.com on Tuesday afternoon that they believe Harper could return as early as mid-August. The Phils have 87 games to play, so if Harper rejoined the team on Aug. 15, he could play the season’s final 48.

“If he’s able to come back, which we plan on, then that’s good news,” Thomson said.

Harper could rejoin the team before the weekend. He will address the details of his surgery and his recovery then.

Thomson declined to say which hand specialist was going to perform Harper’s surgery. Harper consulted several doctors on Monday.

The Phillies will need to play well in Harper’s absence to make his return worthwhile. They will need Nick Castellanos, J.T. Realmuto and others to pick up the slack offensively, but the same holds true for everybody on the 26-man roster, including pitchers in the rotation and bullpen. Phils president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski is expected to explore external opportunities before the Aug. 2 Trade Deadline to bolster the roster.

The Phillies on Monday claimed Oscar Mercado off waivers from Cleveland. Mercado, 27, is a defensive upgrade in the outfield. Thomson sees him as a late-inning defensive replacement and a pinch-runner. Mercado batted .202 with four home runs, 16 RBIs and a .604 OPS in 49 games this season. He has slashed .235/.287/.388 in 932 career big league plate appearances over the past four seasons. Thomson hopes Mercado and hitting coach Kevin Long can tap into his offense.

“This could be a pretty good pickup for us,” Thomson said.

Most of the playing time in center field and right field will go to four players: Castellanos (who will see considerable time at DH in Harper’s absence), Odúbel Herrera, Mickey Moniak and Matt Vierling.

Harper got hit by a 97 mph fastball in the fourth inning in Saturday night’s game against the Padres at Petco Park. He was having one of the best seasons of his career, despite playing since mid-April with a torn UCL in his right arm. He was batting .318 with 15 home runs, 48 RBIs and a .984 OPS.

“Things happen for a reason,” Harper said Saturday. “Everybody says that. This reason sucks right now, but at the same time, it is what it is. I’ve got to be positive. I’ve got to be positive for the guys in here. I know they’ll pick up the slack. I’m just really bummed for the organization, the guys, the city of Philadelphia, the fans. I love running out there and playing every day. Definitely bummed.”

Harper’s torn UCL was not a consideration as he decided to have thumb surgery. Some have wondered if he should take care of both issues at once, which is honestly surprising because it would mean pulling the plug on his season with the Phillies only two games out of the third NL Wild Card.

Harper said recently if he had surgery after the season, he could still be ready by Opening Day 2023.

Harper is using Shohei Ohtani as his guide. Ohtani had Tommy John surgery on Oct. 1, 2018, and he was able to return to DH for the Angels on May 7, 2019.

“I’ll be ready for Opening Day if I do have surgery, hitting-wise,” Harper said. “Outfield-wise, I wouldn’t be ready until May or around there. That’s just a schedule, right? That has nothing to do with how I’m feeling. That’s like perfect scheduling. It really just depends on how your body responds to it. It’s exactly like my throwing program now. It could be anything from 12-16 weeks. Or it could be more than that. It just depends on how it really feels.”

Considering the Phillies have not made the postseason since 2011 and considering they so close to the third NL Wild Card, it makes absolutely no sense to even think about giving up on '22 to take a shot at '23.