Harper puts on encouraging batting practice show in Philly

The two-time National League MVP had been projected to return as a designated hitter by the All-Star break this season. But it appears he might come back earlier.

Philadelphia Phillies' Bryce Harper

Philadelphia Phillies' Bryce Harper runs the bases after a two-run home run during the first inning in Game 3 of baseball's World Series between the Houston Astros and the Philadelphia Phillies on Nov. 1, 2022, in Philadelphia. Harper was placed on the 10-day injured list Thursday, March 30, 2023 by the Phillies, who avoided the 60-day list for their star slugger and left open the opportunity that he could return before the end of May. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)

Bryce Harper went deep for the Phillies in their home opener. Sort of.

Harper hit batting practice home runs — one more encouraging sign for the National League champions who are struggling in the early going that the two-time NL MVP could return to the lineup much earlier than expected, at the very least well before the All-Star break.

The Phillies have Harper on the 10-day injured list as he recovers from offseason reconstructive elbow surgery rather than the 60-day IL, which would have ruled him out until May 29.

Manager Rob Thomson watched the NLCS MVP take his cuts Friday at Citizens Bank Park about 4 1/2 hours before the Phillies played the Cincinnati Reds. Harper took on-field batting practice earlier this week at Yankee Stadium for the first time since Tommy John surgery last fall.

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“It’s not bothering him to swing the bat,” Thomson said.

Thomson said there was still no timeline on Harper’s return and the biggest concern was sliding. There was also no timetable on when Harper could resume throwing.

“First things first, we’ve got to get him to slide, and then get him into games,” Thomson said. “Then we’ll figure the other part out.”

Harper is starting the fifth season of a $330 million, 13-year contract with the Phillies. He hasn’t played right field since last April 16. He had a platelet-rich plasma injection on his elbow in May and became a full-time designated hitter to finish the season.

The Phillies entered at 1-5 and have been riddled by injuries. Notably, first baseman Rhys Hoskins is on the on the 60-day IL with torn left ACL sustained in spring training; his recovery time is estimated at 7-9 months.

Hoskins was replaced by at first by Darick Hall — who was placed on the 10-day injured list Friday with a right thumb sprain. He was replaced in the home-opener lineup by Kody Clemens, son of former pitcher Roger Clemens.

The 26-year-old Clemens, acquired in an offseason deal with the Tigers, hit .319 with three home runs and 10 RBIs in 47 at-bats during spring training.

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Thomson said Clemens would get the bulk of the starts against right-handers.

“He had a great spring training and he would have made our club except it just didn’t fit,” Thomson said. “He had that type of spring training. I have complete confidence in him, for sure.”

Thomson said the Phillies would “figure it out” against lefties. He didn’t rule out moving third baseman Alec Bohm to first against tough left-handers.

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