Upcoming road trip could prove huge for Harper, who inches closer to returning

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By Phil Sheridan

The Phillies leave for Houston after Thursday’s game for a three-game series against the team that defeated them in the 2022 World Series.

“Just another series,” manager Rob Thomson said.

That may be. The baseball season is long, and the Phillies are hovering around .500. They have a lot on their minds besides returning to the scene of their heartbreak. Besides, this road trip has the potential to be a very positive one for the Phillies.

Bryce Harper is making the trip, and he won’t just be hanging out with his friends. Harper will take batting practice with the team.

“He’ll take BP Friday and Sunday in Houston,” Thomson said.

After Houston, the Phillies travel to Los Angeles. Harper is scheduled to see Dr. Neal ElAttrache, who performed Tommy John surgery on Harper’s right elbow in November. ElAttrache is the Dodgers’ team physician, and would likely make (or at least advise) the decision on when Harper can return to game action.

Could that happen within days?

“I really don’t know,” Thomson said. “In my mind, I think so. But you don’t know until the doc sees him.”

Harper has been aggressive in his rehabilitation, but has maintained that he would not do anything to risk reinjury of his rebuilt elbow. A green light from ElAttrache could be all Harper, and the Phillies, need to return to baseball.

Meanwhile, there was good news on Taijuan Walker, who left Wednesday night’s game after just four innings because of tightness in his right forearm. A team expecting Ranger Suarez and Andrew Painter to be in its starting rotation could ill afford to lose Walker, the $72 million free agent addition.

On Thursday, Thomson said Walker “feels better. He’s going to play catch out there. He will still see the doctor.”

After the game, Thomson said Walker “didn’t even need an MRI” on his arm and was unlikely to miss a turn in the rotation.

Walker left Wednesday’s game after throwing 68 pitches. He and Thomson said Walker could have pitched through the discomfort, but chose to be cautious. Luis Ortiz replaced Walker and the bullpen pitched the Phillies to a come-from-behind, 6-5 victory.

There was no word on whether Walker would be cleared to make his next scheduled start, which would typically be Sunday in Houston.

Finally, Suarez is progressing toward his return. He was set to pitch in a game at Double-A Reading Thursday night. If that goes well, Suarez will pitch again in a Triple-A game Tuesday.

“He’s going to fly to Syracuse on Monday,” Thomson said. "If he goes short, 2 innings or so, he’ll finish up in the bullpen.”

The Lehigh Valley IronPigs are scheduled to play in Syracuse Tuesday night. Suarez is rehabilitating  his sore left elbow.

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