Phillies all-star Bryce Harper has not played since June 25 in San Diego when he was hit by a pitch and broke his left thumb. Harper has progressed from hitting off a tee to facing live batting practice in Philadelphia ahead of being able to start a rehab assignment with Lehigh Valley. A capacity crowd of 10,100 greeted Harper at Coca-Cola Park, and he did not disappoint. Harper handed out a souvenir ball to a fan in right-center field when he went deep on the fifth pitch of his first at-bat. Later, Harper gave the left field fans a souvenir when he went the opposite way for a three-run home run that put Lehigh Valley up 9-5 in the eighth inning. Lehigh Valley went on to win the game 10-5 after Dustin Peterson followed Harper’s home run with a solo home run of his own.
Coming in, Harper was expected to get four at-bats but stayed in the game as the designated hitter to bat for a fifth time in the eighth inning, which led to his second home run of the night. On the night he went 2-for-3 with two home runs, four RBI and two walks. After drawing a third inning walk, Harper went to second when Peterson walked and was then thrown out when he attempted to steal third base.
After the game, Harper was happy with his performance but cautioned that there is still more work to do.
“The second day going back is always kind of tough for anybody, so I’ll see how I feel when I wake up in the morning. Each day is just a stepping stone to the next day,” said Harper. “I’m probably going to feel it in my feet, my calves and my hamstrings and everywhere else, so I have to see how my body reacts and go from there.”
Earlier in the season, Harper had been relegated to serving as the Phillies designated hitter due to a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing elbow. He is scheduled to DH for the IronPigs through Saturday and will not play defensively for the rest of the season because of the elbow. Harper has signed up to play for Team USA in the offseason and although there are no plans for surgery on the elbow, his participation with the national team could change depending on the elbow.
In an interesting matchup of rehabbing players, Harper batted against major league veteran Darren O’Day in the fifth inning and grounded to second base. O’Day is working his way back to the Braves bullpen after suffering a calf injury that has sidelined him since July 11.
Harper’s rehab assignment started on a night when Lehigh Valley adopted the moniker of the Lehigh Valley IronMutts, to coincide with their Tail Waggin’ Tuesday theme where fans are allowed to bring their dogs to the game. Not only was the crowd at capacity, but a new record for dogs in attendance – 195 – was also set. Harper took the minor league atmosphere with good humor, stating that the Lehigh Valley was nice, but he does not intend on staying here for too long.
“It was really cool,” said Harper of the atmosphere at the ballpark. “The last time I was here was 2012 (as a member of the Syracuse Chiefs) and I think that was my second to last series before I went up, so it’s good to be back. It’s exciting to be down here and the fans are great, the ballpark is awesome, and the atmosphere is great. I don’t want to be here all the time, but it’s fun to be back.”
Harper was originally drafted and signed by the Washington Nationals and came up through the minor league system having played games against Phillies affiliates in Lakewood (now known as Jersey Shore), Reading and Lehigh Valley. Wherever he went, he was seen as the bad guy and greeted with a hearty set of boos and jeers from the Philadelphia faithful. At the time, Harper said that it was all preparing him for the future when he would play in Philadelphia as a member of the Nationals. Now, he looks at things much differently.
“I don’t think anything prepares you for Philadelphia and being an opposing player there. The fans care a lot about their team and their city,” Harper said. “Running through the minor leagues, nobody really liked me. I got to Philly and am very fortunate to play for such a great team and organization and great fan base.”
Harper is eligible to come off the IL later this week and the plan for now is to have him play with the Pigs through Saturday, take Sunday off, and then be activated for a road trip to Arizona to start next week.