The Phillies learned how to survive without Bryce Harper in 2022. They will apply those lessons again in 2023.
The team announced that Harper will undergo surgery to repair the injured ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow next Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving. The surgery will be performed by Dr. Neil Alatrak in Los Angeles.
Harper was examined by ElAattrache on Monday and an MRI confirmed that surgery would be necessary to repair the tear in his UCL.
The exact nature of the surgery won’t be determined until El-Atrash gets a real-time look inside Harper’s facility. Depending on the extent of the injury, Harper will either have a complete ligament reconstruction — Tommy John surgery — or a lesser procedure known as the internal brace procedure.
Either way, Harper will likely miss at least the first month of next season.
“With the surgery and the anticipation of something going on, I think it’s going to slow him down for the season, but we’ll know more next week,” Phillies chief of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said Wednesday.
Harper injured his elbow hitting right field on April 11. Even while injured and unable to throw, he was able to remain in the Phillies’ lineup as the designated hitter.
Tommy John surgery usually keeps shooters on the sidelines for at least a year. Obviously, Harper isn’t a thrower, so his recovery from Tommy John surgery could be faster than that. Even if he’s not ready to throw in the field, he could stay in the team’s DH role in 2023. The question remains: When will he be ready for that role? While there’s no definitive answer because everyone recovers differently, there is this possible pattern: Los Angeles Angels star/football player Shuhei Ohtani had Tommy John surgery immediately after the 2018 season and returned to his DH team in just over seven months. For Harper, seven months after the operation would be late June.
If ElAttrache determines that Harper is a candidate for the minimally invasive internal brace procedure, recovery will be faster, four to six months by some estimates. Reese Hoskins had the procedure to repair a torn UCL in his left elbow in early October 2020 and participated in full spring training in 2021.
Hoskins had a full rest period to recover from the surgery. Harper doesn’t have that luxury, for good reason. The Phillies played in November as they reached the World Series for the first time since 2009. If Harper’s injury can be repaired with an internal brace procedure, a four to six month recovery period would take him to the regular season and he will. He will likely return as a simple batsman while he builds up his pitching power.
No matter the procedure, the Phillies will not rush Harper back. The 30-year-old two-time National League MVP is a huge investment with nine years remaining on the 13-year, $330 million contract he signed in March 2019. The team wants him 100 percent when he’s ready.
The Phils have experience playing without Harper. Playing through an elbow injury in 2022, he was unable to play through a broken left thumb that he suffered when he was hit by a pitch on June 25. Harper missed two months with an injury and the Phillies went 32-20 without him to cement their status as a competitive club.
“You don’t ever want to lose Bryce,” football coach Rob Thompson said Wednesday. “He’s one of the best hitters in baseball, if not the best. We went a lot of time without him last year and that gave other guys the chance to step up and they did. So, while we’ll miss him and look to get him back, we’ll be looking for the same.”
With much of their off-season attention focused on lengthening the lineup with a batter – perhaps someone from the flashy free-agent class that includes Trea Turner, Xander Bogaerts, Carlos Correa and Dansby Swanson – and adding to the staff, both of the Phils could try to fill the void created by the loss of Harper from Inside, just like they did in 2022. Darrick Hall came in from the mansion and delivered a lefty pop with a cannibal nine after Harper fell. Outfielders Nick Castellanos, Kyle Schwarber, JT Realmoto catcher and first baseman Hoskins could all be candidates for occasional reps at DH while Harper recovers. If Hoskins were to play at DH, the Phils could use Alec Bohm at first and play Edmundo Sosa at third, thus improving their defense. This is contingent on the Phils signing a shortstop and Sosa not having to play there full time.
Dombrowski said he won’t know how Harper’s surgery will affect the team’s offseason plans until he receives a full diagnosis from ElAttrache and the medical team next week.
“We are having meetings now,” said Dombrowski. “We cover every topic we can think of – clubs, potential free agent signings, deals – all of that stuff. In the back of our minds there will be some discussion of, ‘What are we going to do then?’ It might not be a thing if we were in a situation where we were looking forward to him coming back and DHing for part of the season. We have other people who can DH, so we need to fit that into the whole picture of what I’m going to do.”
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