By Peter Gleason
Bryce Harper has a doctor’s appointment in Los Angeles when the Phillies are there for the back half of a six-game road trip starting May 1, a week from today.
“If we get clearance from the doctor, then we’ll see when he can start DHing,” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said last week.
“But it shouldn’t be too far after that.”
Harper had surgery last Nov. 23. He could return less than six months after having his right (throwing) elbow reconstructed. He would do it without playing in any minor-league rehab games. He would beat the vague timeline — “sometime by the All-Star break,” established by the Phillies the day he underwent surgery — by more than two months.
Harper took batting practice on the field for the first time April 5 at Yankee Stadium. In the 15 days since, Harper has devoted chunks of time toward learning first base. But his primary focus has been on his hitting because, right now, he is fully cleared to swing without restrictions.
In Los Angeles, Harper will see Dr. Neal ElAttrache, an orthopedist who has become the most prominent doctor in baseball. He performed the surgery on Harper and he is the doctor of choice for Harper’s agent, Scott Boras. If the Phillies were pushing Harper to the point of risk, Boras would have intervened.
“I think what the plan is really is that we cover everything that we need to cover prior to that,” Thomson said.
“And then we talk to the doctor and figure out when it’s the best time to start DHing.”
A 2018 study of position players who underwent Tommy John surgery published in the Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery found that the mean time for a player to return to his prior professional level was 382 days, or 12 and a half months — more than twice as long as Harper’s projected return.
If Harper returns May 5 against the Red Sox at Citizens Bank Park, it will have been 163 days since he underwent Tommy John surgery.