Harper cautiously practices sliding, Suarez inches closer to return

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By Phil Sheridan

Bryce Harper practiced sliding before the Phillies’ Friday night game in Cincinnati and don’t worry. He was safe.

Not safe on base. Safe from harm. Harper’s return from offseason elbow surgery seems to be accelerating, which raises the concern that the Phillies’ best player could be rushing his comeback.  One mishap could lead to a reinjury of the right elbow ligament that was repaired.

Rest easy. Harper is more aware of the risks than anybody, and he is determined to rehab the elbow cautiously. He practiced sliding feet-first, under the watchful eye of athletic trainer Paul Buchheit.

“I’m not trying to just be the fastest guy coming back,” Harper told the Philadelphia Inquirer Friday before the game. “That’s not what I want to do. I don’t want to just be the fastest. I want to be smart about it, too. I don’t want to be dumb. This isn’t just some rinky-dink surgery that I had. It’s a big-time surgery. I want to come back. But I want to do it smart.”

The Phillies can’t mind hearing that. Harper is obviously a significant missing piece for the defending National League champions. The Phillies originally suggested Harper would be back in the lineup around the All-Star break in July.

The plan to stay afloat until Harper’s return took a few hits when first basemen Rhys Hoskins (torn knee ligament) and Darick Hall (thumb injury) were placed on the injured list. Harper responded by taking grounders at first base, hoping to help his team with his dominating offense and some badly needed defense.

Harper’s timetable hasn’t been altered by the Phillies. But Harper is ultimately going to decide when he’s ready to play at his accustomed level.

“The way I am, if my body feels good, I’m going to keep pushing it,” Harper told the Inquirer. “I feel great right now. But it’s the moment that I don’t that we’re all sitting here going, ‘What did we do? Why did we do that?’ Just got to keep progressing, keep understanding that we need to check this off, check that off, keep going. And when I’m back, I’m back.”

Suarez throws

Harper is not the only injured Phillie making progress toward a return. Starting pitcher Ranger Suarez, who injured his elbow in spring training, threw 40 pitches off the mound in the bullpen. Suarez mixed in a simulated between-innings break.

Manager Rob Thomson told reporters before the game that Suarez will pitch against hitters in live batting practice next week. Once he builds up to 90 pitches, Thomson said, Suarez will rejoin the rotation.

Left-handed pitcher Matt Strahm, who has helped fill in for Suarez, will start Saturday’s game in Cincinnati. Strahm is 1-0 with an earned run average of 0.00. Right-hander Graham Ashcraft (1-0, 2.08) will start for the Reds. First pitch is scheduled for 4:10 p.m.

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