Bryce Harper sets All-Star break as ballpark for return

Philadelphia Phillies slugger Bryce Harper has joined his teammates at spring training and hasn’t ruled out being back by the All-Star break following Tommy John surgery.

“Things can change either way,” the two-time National League MVP said Thursday. “I could be after, I could be before. But as right now, that’s the date we kind of solidified. We’re not going to rush. We’re going to be smart about it.”

Dressed in red Phillies shorts with pinstripes and a white workout shirt, Harper sat on top of a picnic table outside the clubhouse.

“Just excited to be back out here, some sunshine and some warm weather,” Harper stated. “Just really excited to be around the team again.”

Harper was hurt in April and last played right field April 16 in Miami. He underwent surgery in November.

“Once I was done with surgery, I took the time off that I needed to let it heal,” Harper said. “It’s still healing right now, still evolving. Just trying to see how I feel each day and go from there.”

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Entering the fifth season of a 13-year, $330 million contract, Harper is taking swings with a bat but not facing pitches.

“I’ve never dealt with anything like an elbow, so definitely it’s different waters for me,” Harper said. “Just trying to take it day by day.”

Harper had a platelet-rich plasma injection on his elbow in May and became a full-time designated hitter to finish the season, helping lead the Phillies to their first World Series appearance since 2009. They lost to the Houston Astros in six matches.

He will DH when he returns. It is expected to be a while before he starts a throwing program.

“Of course, I want to play the outfield,” Harper said. “I want to get back out there and be in front of the fans in right field doing my stuff and hearing it from all the teams [fans] in the league too.”

Harper missed two months last season after breaking a thumb when he was hit by a pitch in late June. The 30-year old hit .286 with 18 homers and 65 RBIs in 99 games.

He batted .349 with six home runs and 13 RBIs in 17 postseason games. His two-run homer with two outs in the eighth inning captured the pennant for the Phillies in a 4-3 triumph over the San Diego Padres.

Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski had an active offseason, adding shortstop Trea Turner, infielder Josh Harrison, and pitchers Taijuan Walker, Gregory Soto, Craig Kimbrel and Matt Strahm.

Turner signed an 11-year, $300 million deal after hitting .298 with 21 homers, 100 RBIs, 101 runs and 27 stolen bases last year with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“The people of Philadelphia are going to love this guy just because of the way he plays,” Harper stated.

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