Bryce Harper was happy to be in the Florida sunshine after arriving in Clearwater Thursday, about four months before the Phillies hope to have him back in the lineup.
Harper was relaxed as he discussed with reporters his rehab from Tommy John surgery performed the week of Thanksgiving. He's not putting a timetable on his return. The Phillies initially targeted the All-Star break, which is July 10. There have been hints here and there he might be able to return sooner. It's all fluid, as they say.
"I don't want to put timelines on it, I've never dealt with anything like an elbow so it's definitely different waters for me," Harper said. "Just trying to take it day by day and see how I feel.
"I could be back after (the All-Star break), I could be before. Things can change but as of now, that's the date we solidified. We're not going to rush, we're going to be smart about it. We knew at the end of last year, me playing through it all year, that this might happen. We're thankful for the DH again. I was so against it but I'm all about it and I love doing it."
Harper seems unlikely to play the field in 2023. There's little need to with an everyday spot as the designated hitter. He was limited to DH duty after April 16 last season, and the Phillies will approach the throwing portion of his return methodically. Until he's back, the DH will be a rotating cast of players like Rhys Hoskins, Kyle Schwarber, Nick Castellanos, J.T. Realmuto and perhaps Darick Hall.
"I think it just depends on how I'm feeling," he said. "I don't think we're going to rush the throwing part because we kind of don't have to at this point. But of course I want to play the outfield, get back out there in front of the fans in right field doing my stuff and hearing it from all the other teams in the league too. I look forward to the feeling of throwing a baseball again, I miss the feeling of throwing a guy out or chasing down a ball. Looking forward to that when that day comes but I don't want to look ahead until we get to that point."
Harper is excited by what the Phillies did this offseason after falling two wins short of a World Series. With the addition of Trea Turner, Harper has a full Survivor Series team of buddies with J.T. Realmuto and Kyle Schwarber. The Phillies also brought in Taijuan Walker, Craig Kimbrel and Gregory Soto. They loaded up. They have the fourth-highest payroll in the game behind the Mets, Yankees and Padres.
“John (Middleton) called me and said, 'Hey, we got your friend.' I said you've gotta be kidding me,” Harper recalled. “Really excited, Trea's an unbelievable player. Dynamic player, threat on both sides of the ball. People in Philadelphia are going to love this guy just because of his demeanor and the way he plays. He plays through injury, plays hard, never wavers, just a lot of fun to be able to have him back on my team, on our team.
“Taijuan Walker, he's a gamer, had a great first half year, excited to have him on our team. Kimbrel, Soto, you can go on and on about the job Dave Dombrowski has done for us. Just having Dave in our corner as well helping us push it along.
“Really excited, just being able to have the feel for where our team is with Trea at the top. Just looking forward to seeing how we all mesh together. Bohmer looks great, Hoskins looks great, Noles, Wheels. Everybody looks strong and ready to go, just me looking from afar. It's fun to be part of.”
Hitting off a tee is next in Harper's progression. There are many mile markers to go. This is uncommon territory for a position player and Harper has not consulted with any other players who’d been through it. He said it wouldn’t be as applicable to ask a pitcher.
Harper is 30 and in the middle of his prime. The Phillies are hoping for another MVP-caliber half-season from him. He’s put on a show since putting on red pinstripes in 2019 and has had a particularly monstrous last two seasons, hitting .300/.402/.571 with 70 doubles, 53 homers and 149 RBI in 240 games. He hit .349 during their 2022 playoff run with six more homers.
For now, he’s hoping to fly under the radar as much as Bryce Harper can.
“I've got a long ways to go,” he said. “Just trying to take it day by day and be grateful for the day that I'm in, the workout that I'm doing and that next step. Trying to hit every mark, hit every step and go from there. ...
“I want to stay out of the way as much as possible but be there as well, just try to be the best teammate that I can, help when I can, do things in the clubhouse and on the field when I can. And hopefully we're in a good place when I get back.”