PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Bryce Harper was in full Phillies uniform not long after a pregame workout where the two-time NL MVP hit pitching, dove head-first into first base and fielded grounders at first.
His change into the home uni did not go unnoticed.
"I got to do scoreboard stuff," Harper said.
Harper dashed off to film a series of vignettes to air on Philadelphia's new scoreboard -- and the Phillies slugger is getting closer to seeing his name up there in the starting lineup.
But not quite yet.
As Harper ramps up what he can do in his rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery, optimism has swelled that he can return in May if he's cleared in his next scheduled checkup early next month. While Harper seems briskly ahead of pace since his November surgery, no one really wants to rush his return since one false move could cause another rupture.
"We're very encouraged about Bryce's advancement and his rehabilitation, It's all been going very well but there's still some very important final steps to take," Harper's agent, Scott Boras told The Associated Press on Friday.
Notably, that includes sliding. Harper performed "modified" head-first sliding into first; he basically kind of turned and fell into the base rather than take off on a mad dash around the bases and try sliding at full speed.
"It's all under control because we haven't had the clearance yet to do the full head-first slide," manager Rob Thomson said.
Harper hit against minor leaguer Jeff Hoffman. The right-hander hit 96 to 99 mph with a sharp slider and threw against Harper with the pitch clock in use. Harper will face Phillies left-hander Ranger Suarez on Saturday.
"This is kind of spring training for him, as far as the pitch clock is concerned," Thomson said.
Thomson said he wasn't surprised at Harper's pace that should have him back with the Phillies well before the All-Star break.
"He's a quick healer, he always has been," Thomson said. "He works extremely hard. I think (it's) the combination of the two, and he's staying right on what the doctors and trainers are telling him. I think the combination of all that just kind of sped up the recovery process a little bit."
Harper is starting the fifth season of a $330 million, 13-year contract with the Phillies. He hasn't played right field since last April 16. He had a platelet-rich plasma injection on his elbow in May and became a full-time designated hitter to finish the season.
He will return as the DH, but continued his work at first base, where the Phillies have used Alec Bohm and Kody Clemens with Rhys Hoskins out with a torn ACL in his left knee.
Thomson said it was still too early to determine where Harper would hit in the lineup. Bryson Stott led off Friday's game against Colorado, followed by Trea Turner, Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos.
"Once we get there, then we'll figure out where we go," Thomson said.
AP Baseball Writer Ronald Blum contribured to this report. ___
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