CLEARWATER, Fla. (AP) — Philadelphia Phillies slugger Bryce Harper joined his teammates at spring training and hasn’t ruled out being back by the All-Star break following Tommy John surgery.
“Things can change either way,” the two-time National League MVP Harper said Thursday. “I could be after, I could be before. But as right now that’s the date we kind of solidified. We’re not going to rush. We’re going to be smart about it.”
Dressed in red Phillies shorts with pinstripes and a white workout shirt, Harper sat on top of a picnic table outside the clubhouse.
“Just excited to be back out here, some sunshine and some warm weather,” Harper said. “Just really excited to be around the team again.”
Harper was hurt in April and last played right field on April 16 in Miami. He had surgery in November.
“Once I was done with surgery I took the time off that I needed to let it heal,” Harper said. “It’s still healing right now, still evolving. Just trying to see how I feel each day and go from there.”
Entering the fifth season of a $330 million, 13-year contract, Harper is currently taking swings with a bat but not facing pitches.
“I’ve never dealt with anything like an elbow, so definitely it’s different waters for me,” Harper said. “Just trying to take it day by day.”
Philadelphia manager Rob Thomson said Harper is making progress and added hitting off a tee on Thursday. Harper will hit every other day for the time being.
Thomson added that Harper probably won’t take batting practice before spring training ends.
“You’ve got a lot of steps to go through,” Thomson said. “It’s just how he progresses through this, his stages. We’re going to take it slow with him. Obviously, he’s a great player and we want him back 100%.”
Harper had a platelet-rich plasma injection on his elbow in May and became a full-time designated hitter to finish the season, helping lead the Phillies to their first World Series since 2009. They lost to Houston in six games.
“We’re thankful for the DH, again,” Harper said with a smile. “I was so against it, right? But I’m all about it, and I love during it, too.”
Harper will DH when he returns, It is expected to be awhile before he starts a throwing program.
“Of course, I want to play the outfield,” Harper said “I want to get back out there and be in front of the fans in right field doing my stuff and hearing it from all the teams (fans) in the league, too.”
Thomson couldn’t say yet if Harper will play in the outfield this year.
“It all depends on how he heals and gets into his throwing program,” Thomson said. “How all that works out. I don’t think it’s out of the question.”
Harper missed two months last season after breaking a thumb when he was hit by a pitch in late June. The 30-year old hit .286 with 18 homers and 65 RBIs in 99 games.
Harper batted .349 with six home runs and 13 RBIs in 17 postseason games. His two-run homer with two outs in the eighth inning captured the pennant for the Phillies in a 4-3 victory over the San Diego Padres.
Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski had an active offseason, adding shortstop Trea Turner, infielder Josh Harrison, and pitchers Taijuan Walker, Gregory Soto, Craig Kimbrel and Matt Strahm.
Turner signed a $300 million, 11-year deal after hitting .298 with 21 homers 100 RBIs, 101 runs and 27 stolen bases last year with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“The people of Philadelphia are going to love this guy just because of the way he plays,” Harper said.
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