PHILADELPHIA — Phillies shortstop Bryce Harper may be just one phone call away from returning to the club.
At least that’s the vibe in the clubhouse after his inspiring two-run performance Tuesday during a rehab assignment with Triple-A Lehigh Valley when the ball bounced off his bat. Judging by the pose, Harper himself was impressed with the launches, especially the first one.
Except for the attempts at humor. Phillies interim manager Rob Thomson had a hard time containing his enthusiasm. Harper may be back much sooner than first thought. Harper was scheduled to continue his rehab work through Saturday, take Sunday off and then rejoin the team when the West Coast swing begins Monday in Arizona.
“I texted him today and said, ‘Look, your timing looks a little off, but keep working on it,'” Thomson said to a chorus of laughs. “I told him I would call him tomorrow and talk to him on the phone and find out what he was thinking and where he was feeling.”
Unless we’re missing something at all, Harper will take his frustrations out on MLB pitching on a day-to-day basis after nearly two months of treatment and rehab for a broken left thumb. Harper, the reigning National League MVP, was batting .318 with 15 home runs, 48 RBI and a .984 OPS in 64 games before he was hit on the arm.
Bringing Harper back would be anything but a desperate measure now that the hapless Pittsburgh Pirates are on deck this weekend.
It’s a question of if, not if. The Phillies enter the playoff race one game ahead of the San Diego Padres for the second wild-card slot in the Netherlands and 1.5 games ahead of the Milwaukee Brewers, who will begin play on Wednesday.
The Phillies were 30-20 without Harper entering Wednesday’s game against the Cincinnati Reds, compared to 38-35 with him. Those numbers also reflect a softening of the schedule for the Phillies.
Thomson will not deny that Harper is very close to returning to the squad. He was the one who mentioned Harper’s DL status. When the time comes, it will be as a DH because Harper still can’t throw a baseball due to a torn UCL in his right elbow. This weekend maybe?
“A possibility, yes, it just depends on how he feels,” Thomson said. “But last night it was very impressive. He did a lot of base running last night. I didn’t ask him, but he must be very sick. He was trying to steal third base.”
Harper, 29, was back in the lineup Wednesday night for Lehigh Valley. He had a base hit in his first at-bat and then a double in his first two at-bats. Harper struck out and homered in his next two at-bats before hitting a two-run double to give the IronPigs a 6-5 win over Gwinnett.
If Harper rips a couple more homers, Thomson can drive up to the bullpen to take it. On Tuesday, Harper went 2 for 3 with a pair of homers, two walks and three RBI.
Thomson smiled when suggested there was little chance Harper would tell him he wasn’t ready to return to the Bigs. It’s clear that Thomson trusts Harper to know the truth.
“We’ll see where he is,” Thomson said.