Less than six months after undergoing Tommy John surgery, Bryce Harper was back in a Philadelphia Phillies uniform Tuesday.
The two-time NL MVP made his 2023 debut after missing the first 30 games of the season following the offseason procedure. He picked a tough matchup against the Los Angeles Dodgers to break into the season, facing reigning NL ERA king Julio Urías.
It proved to be a rough return, as Harper went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts as the Phillies fell to the Dodgers 13-1.
Harper took his first at-bat to an ovation from the few Phillies fans in the Dodger Stadium crowd.
Bryce Harper struck out in his first at-bat, but still great (and wild) to see him back out therepic.twitter.com/JQ3aBLQzqF
— Foul Territory (@FoulTerritoryTV) May 3, 2023
But Urías got the best of the first matchup, as Harper struck out swinging on the fifth pitch of the at-bat to end the top of a scoreless first inning.
With the Phillies trailing 3-1 in the fourth, Harper put the ball in play on his second at-bat. But his groundball dribbler to third base on an 0-2 pitch made for an easy out.
Urías once again bested Harper in his third at-bat. After falling behind 0-2, Harper took a ball in the dirt and fouled off a fastball before striking out on a cutter on the fifth pitch of the at-bat.
Harper got one more at-bat with the game out of hand in the ninth. With the Phillies trailing 13-1, Harper again struck out, this time on three pitches.
It was a disappointing start to Harper's 2023 season, though perhaps not unexpected, considering that Harper did not take a minor-league rehab assignment before returning to the major-league club after a long layoff.
Harper returned a lot earlier than expected
Regardless of his results at the plate Tuesday, Harper's return was a welcome and somewhat unexpected sight for Phillies fans. He returned ahead of schedule, 160 days after undergoing Tommy John surgery to repair the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. Various reports placed his timetable to return anywhere from mid-May to July, which means he returned weeks ahead of even the most optimistic estimates.
Tommy John surgery generally sidelines pitchers for a full season, while position players who don't put the same stress on their elbows tend to return faster. Shohei Ohtani returned to the Los Angeles Angels' lineup as a designated hitter in May 2019, eight months after undergoing the procedure. He did not pitch that season.
Harper likewise returns as a designated hitter, as he's not yet ready to throw as a position player. He has been working out at first base and is expected to eventually man that position, instead of his usual spot in right field, which requires more throwing.
Harper sustained the UCL tear last May. A broken thumb sidelined him in the middle of the season, but he played through the UCL injury as a designated hitter through the end of the season and Philadelphia's run to the World Series against the eventual champion Houston Astros.
He slashed .286/.364/.514 with 18 home runs and 65 RBIs in 99 regular-season games in 2022 and opted to have Tommy John surgery in the offseason on Nov. 23.