LOS ANGELES (AP) — Bryce Harper’s return to the Philadelphia Phillies lineup 160 days after undergoing Tommy John surgery might be considered miraculous by some.
For the superstar slugger it is right on schedule.
The two-time National League MVP was cleared on Monday after an appointment with Dr. Neal ElAttrache on Monday morning. Harper is expected to be in the lineup at designated hitter on Tuesday in the middle game of a three-game series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“I looked at this series in the offseason. I wanted to put myself the earliest that I could in my mind to work towards something to get out there,” Harper said before taking batting practice Monday. “I was just trying to make progress each day. My body has been very good to me in this process.”
The timing of the return completes a stunning recovery for Harper. The Phillies said when Harper had surgery on Nov. 23 that he was expected to return around the All-Star break in mid-July.
“I think having five months to play this game helps everyone on the field. It felt like I could have been back two weeks ago possibly but the healing process just didn’t let me do that,” Harper said. “Anytime before that July mark I was trying to push for and I’m very happy we were able to get to this point.”
It also comes at a great time for the Phillies, who have won seven of their last nine games. They took two of three from Houston over the weekend in a rematch of last year’s World Series.
Phillies manager Rob Thomson said the decision to wait one day to activate Harper was due to his early morning appointment and to make sure everything was set.
Thomson said with the number of days off that the Phillies have in May, the expectation is that Harper can be in the lineup every day as long as he remains healthy.
“I think everyone is excited about his return,” Thomson said. “Once he gets hot, we’re going to be a handful.”
Harper started taking on-field batting practice on April 5. He has been facing live pitching the past couple of weeks, along with doing sliding and baserunning drills.
He was placed on the 10-day injured list at the beginning of the season instead of the 60, which would have not allowed him to return until May 29.
“It was probably a couple weeks ago when you could see the bat speed and see the timing getting better when I thought it may happen,” Thomson said of Harper’s return.
Harper will be the Phillies’ designated hitter. He has played most of his career in right field but has been recently been taking fielding drills at first base. He threw up to 60 feet during pregame drills on Sunday in Houston.
The 30-year-old Harper first suffered a small ulnar collateral ligament tear in his elbow in April. He had a platelet-rich plasma injection in May and shifted to the DH role. Harper underwent surgery after ElAttrache determined the tear did not heal on its own.
Harper hit .286 with 18 homers and 65 RBIs during the regular season as the Phillies made a late-season run to a wild-card spot.
Philadelphia made the World Series for the first time since 2009, losing in six games. Harper batted .349 with six homers and 13 RBIs in 17 postseason games. He is starting the fifth season of a $330 million, 13-year contract.
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