Bryce Harper undergoes Tommy John surgery
Fielders / designated hitter Bryce Harper underwent Tommy John surgery today, according to NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Jim Salisbury. Salisbury adds that it has been going “very well” and that Harper could return to a competitive environment by mid-May.
Harper was diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in May, which prevented him from pitching. However, he was still able to hit and served as the Phillies’ designated hitter for the rest of the season, delaying treatment until the offseason. The UCL injury didn’t slow him down at all, as he finished the year with a .286/.364/.514 batting line for a wRC+ of 138. Then he went wild in the playoffs, hitting .349 /.414. /.746 for a wRC+ of 217 and helping the Phillies reach the World Series.
Was reported last week that Harper would be undergoing some sort of surgery, although it wouldn’t be known until he actually went under the knife. One option would have been an internal brace procedure, which generally requires less recovery time than a full Tommy John procedure. However, the ligament damage was apparently significant enough that a full TJS was eventually required.
Of the two possible outcomes, this is definitely bad news for the Phillies. However, it is not as severe as it would be for a pitcher. TJS typically requires a pitcher to miss about 12-18 months while he recovers and regains strength, but position players can return much faster. For example, Shohei Ohtani submitted to TJS in October 2018, but was serving as the Angels designated hitter as of early May 2019.
Every player and every injury is unique, so you can’t assume Harper will follow the same timeline. But it does illustrate that Harper’s 2023 is not doomed. As Salisbury mentions, it’s possible Harper will play competitive games in mid-May, presumably on some sort of rehab assignment that will see him rejoin the team after that. The next question will be when Harper can take the field again, which could also happen in 2023. Didi Gregori underwent TJS in October 2018 and was playing shortstop by June 2019, about eight months later.
The consequences of Harper’s injury have been and will continue to be mitigated by the designated hitter. The National League didn’t adopt the DH permanently until the 2022 season, which was good timing for the Phils as it allowed Harper to stay in the lineup for most of 2022 and will allow him to return faster next year.
While Harper is out for the start of the season, this will open up the DH spot for some of the club’s younger defenders, such as Kyle Schwarber i Nick Castellanos. While the DH allowed the club to hang on to Harper’s bat, it also meant that Scharber and Castellanos had to play a lot more than they initially imagined. For at least part of 2023, they’ll have more ability to use the DH slot for those guys. The club’s regular outfield combination is slated to consist of these two Brandon Marsh in the middle. If one of the corner outfielders is in the DH slot, it opens up playing time for guys like Matt Vierling or Dalton Guthrie. Then again, the club could also use the DH slot to accomplish this Darick Hall in the lineup more since the first baseman is currently locked Rhys Hoskins there.
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