Harper has follow-up Monday, could return to Phillies' lineup Tuesday night


HOUSTON -- Bryce Harper will have his all-important follow-up appointment in Los Angeles Monday with Dr. Neal ElAttrache, and if it goes the way he and the Phillies are hoping, Harper could make his season debut Tuesday night at Dodger Stadium.

It does not sound like they will wait to have Harper return at home later this week against the Red Sox.

"It'll be tomorrow and then we'll see what happens," manager Rob Thomson said Sunday prior to the Phillies' series finale against the Astros. "I don't think, just talking with Harp, I don't think he'll play tomorrow even if he's cleared. But hopefully, he gets cleared.

"Gotta get him cleared to headfirst slide. You know Harp, he's a gamer, he's not going to slide feet first, he's going to slide headfirst. But once he gets that clearance, he can DH."

This is all pretty astonishing. Harper had Tommy John surgery the day before Thanksgiving, November 23. If he's back in the lineup Tuesday night, his recovery will have taken just 160 days. When Harper had surgery, the Phillies listed a conservative timetable of the All-Star break for his return, but he's well ahead of schedule.

"He's pretty geeked up about getting out there and playing," Thomson said. "He's itching."

At this point, would Harper be disappointed if he's not cleared Monday?

"Yeah," Thomson said. "Me, too."

Harper has been facing live pitching for a few weeks now and will not go on a rehab assignment. He's faced Ranger Suarez, Nick Nelson and minor-league pitchers in the Phillies' organization and has been swinging on the field every other day.

He's also been working at first base regularly, but his return will come as the designated hitter. Eventually, the Phillies hope to work Harper in at first base to give themselves more positional flexibility.

When Harper returns as the DH, it will mean everyday duty in left field for Kyle Schwarber, who has been the designated hitter in 18 of the 29 games he's played this season. Four of his last seven starts have been in left field as Thomson tries to get reacclimated to playing the field on a daily basis.

"When he first started playing every day, his legs were achy because he really didn't have a spring training as far as playing the outfield (because of the World Baseball Classic)," Thomson said. "But now he's starting to feel a lot better."

The Phillies entered Sunday night ranked in the Top 3 in baseball in batting average and extra-base hits despite no Harper, no Rhys Hoskins and Trea Turner hitting .261 with a .680 OPS. There is room for offensive improvement and protection against the inevitable slumps Brandon Marsh, Nick Castellanos and Edmundo Sosa haven't had yet.

"I like it. Those young guys have kind of carried the club for the most part," Thomson said. "The emergence of Sosa, he's really become an offensive player. I really like the balance of this lineup and when those guys get hot and you get Harper back in the lineup and he gets hot ... they're not all going to be hot at the same time but it's a long lineup. It's going to be a handful for a lot of pitchers."

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