Phillies’ Harper vows to play this year, but no date for return

Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
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PHILADELPHIA — Bryce Harper has three pins in his left thumb, a cast on his left hand and an unyielding belief that he will return from injury this season to try and lead the Phillies to their first playoff appearance in 11 years.

“I’ll be back,” Harper said.

With those three words, Harper injected genuine expectations in the franchise and the fan base that the reigning NL MVP will play again at some point this season – and with a hope the Phillies are still in the wild-card hunt when he returns.

Harper declined to put a timetable on when he could he return to the lineup as the feared designated hitter in the middle of the order that led the team on a summer surge and put Philadelphia in the thick of a real pennant race.

“I don’t want to give anybody a timetable because I don’t know,” Harper said. “If I knew a specific date that I’d be back, I’d tell you. I just don’t think it’s fair to anybody. I’ll be back when I’m ready to go.”

Harper was injured last month when he was hit by a 97 mph pitch from San Diego Padres left-hander Blake Snell. Harper had pins inserted last week and will need them in the thumb for at least another three weeks. He is in a cast and unable to throw or do much of a workout.

“I don’t want to hope or think about anything,” Harper said. “I just want to go day by day and be back when I can, whenever I feel healthy, whenever that is to help this team win. Granted, if we’re out of it, I’m going to come back and play no matter what, just so I know that I can go out there and play the game. I don’t want that to be my last day playing this year. No matter what the outcome, I’m going to come back and I’ll be playing.”

The 29-year-old Harper, who signed a $330 million, 13-year deal with the Phillies in 2019, is hitting .318 with 15 home runs, 48 RBIs and a .985 OPS. Harper talked Tuesday before the Phillies were set to open a three-game set against Harper’s former team, the Washington Nationals.

Philadelphia is 4-3 in Harper’s absence and entered Tuesday only one game back of the final NL wild-card spot.

“I hate sitting there watching,” Harper said.

Harper had already surrendered his spot in right field earlier this season because of because of a small tear in the ulnar collateral ligament of his throwing elbow. He last played the field at Miami on April 16. Harper did not have a scheduled checkup on the elbow last week because of the surgery but he said it could happen in another two weeks.

“I’m not going to rush the elbow,” Harper said. “If it feels good, I’m gonna go. I want to play out there, I want to be out there, I want to be helping this team.”

Harper said he did not expect to travel with the Phillies – who have the longest playoff drought in the National League – on an upcoming nine-game road trip that opens Friday in St. Louis and included stops in Toronto and against the Marlins.

“I don’t really feel the need for me to go anywhere, especially with appointments for the next two weeks with the doctors,” he said. “If I didn’t have those appointments, I’d be going on this road. After the break, I’ll be kind of a little more open to going on the road and travel and get the things done I need to.”

Braves sweep Mets, take 2-game lead in East with 3 remaining

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ATLANTA — Matt Olson knew the Atlanta Braves were too talented to stay in a season-long slump.

That’s why no one panicked when the New York Mets’ division lead swelled to double digits in May. Now the Braves are on the cusp of another NL East title.

“It’s a clubhouse full of guys who want to win,” Olson said. “That’s all it’s been since the moment I walked in. That’s No. 1 on the program.”

Dansby Swanson and Olson homered for the third straight game, Travis d'Arnaud hit a go-ahead two-run single in the third inning, and Braves beat New York 5-3 on Sunday night, completing a three-game sweep of their NL East rival and taking a two-game lead in the division with three games to play.

The defending World Series champion Braves have been chasing the Mets the entire season. In the final series of the season, any combination of one Atlanta win or one Mets loss would give the Braves their fifth straight division title.

New York plays its final three games of the season against worst-in-the-majors Washington. Atlanta closes out the regular season with a three-game set in Miami. Should the season end Wednesday in a tie, Atlanta would win the division after claiming the season series 10-9 with Sunday’s victory.

“We’ve felt this confidence since the beginning of the year,” d’Arnaud said. “It just didn’t go our way early in the year, but pulling on the same rope, having each others’ backs, not trying to do too much. We’re just trying to play the game of baseball and have fun with it.”

The Braves won five of the last six games in the series, outscoring the Mets 42-19 over that stretch. New York had a 10 1/2-game lead on June 1 but now is the lower in the standings than at any point this season.

It was a lost weekend for New York, which came to Atlanta hoping to clinch its first division title since 2015. Instead, aces Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer lost Friday and Saturday before Chris Bassitt lasted just 2 2/3 innings on Sunday.

“We still have three games left in the regular season, we’re still going to the postseason, that doesn’t change, but there’s a lot of learning points that we can take from this series moving forward,” Mets slugger Pete Alonso said. “I thought we played well, but the Braves played better. They played excellent baseball this entire weekend.”

Swanson took Bassitt deep to right-center in the first with his 25th homer, and Atlanta took charge with a three-run third. Bassitt (15-9) issued a bases-loaded walk to Olson before d’Arnaud delivered a single up the middle to score Ronald Acuna Jr. and Austin Riley for a 4-3 lead. That chased Bassitt, who was charged with four runs, three hits and three walks.

Olson connected for his 33rd homer to make it 5-3 leading off the sixth, his 410-foot shot landing in the seats in right-center. Olson, in his first year with Atlanta, surpassed 100 RBIs for the second straight season.

“Everyone knew we were underperforming when we were flirting around that .500 range,” Olson said. “It was one of those things where it was trusting the talent we have and the guys in the clubhouse. Everybody was solid, head down, do your work, it’ll turn around and you wind up winning.”

Charlie Morton stranded runners on first and second in the first, but he gave up Daniel Vogelbach‘s 18th homer that tied it at 1 in the second. The righty struck out Francisco Lindor with runners on first and second to end the threat.

Jeff McNeil went deep off Morton in the third and Vogelbach followed with an RBI single to put the Mets up 3-1. Morton entered the game having allowed 28 homers, sixth-most in the NL.

Morton scuffled throughout his start, giving up three runs and nine hits in 4 1/3 innings as the 38-year-old made his first start since signing a $20 million, one-year contract to remain with Atlanta next season.

Dylan Lee (5-1) relieved Morton and pitched 1 1/3 innings, leaving after a walk to Brandon Nimmo with two outs in the sixth. Collin McHugh entered and struck out Francisco Lindor.

Raisel Iglesias faced four batters in the seventh, A.J. Minter faced the minimum in the eighth and closer Kenley Jansen converted his third save of the series with a clean ninth.

Jansen leads the NL with 40 saves in 47 chances.

The Braves’ bullpen, which posted a 1.70 ERA last month, pitched 8 2/3 scoreless innings the last two nights.

BIG NUMBERS

Atlanta leads the NL with 241 homers. And the Braves have their first 100-victory season since 2003.

TWO, DARN HOT

McNeil went 3 for 5 and has multiple hits in five straight games. His average is .326, one point behind the Dodgers’ Freddie Freeman for the NL batting title. In 23 career games at Truist Park, McNeil is hitting .395 with 12 runs, nine doubles, two homers, seven RBIs and four walks. … Jansen tied Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley for eighth place on the career list with 389. He’s also is the 10th closer to have four different seasons with at least 40 saves.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Mets All-Star RF Starling Marte (right middle finger fracture) has yet to begin swinging or throwing. … Braves 2B Ozzie Albies (broken right pinky finger) is still wearing a cast. … Braves RHP Spencer Strider still has not thrown as he gets treatment on a sore left oblique.

ATTENDANCE

The Braves drew 42,713 in their regular season finale, the club’s 42nd sellout of the season. Overall. that’s 3,129,931 for the season – and the most tickets sold since 2000. In 2019, the team’s last full season before the COVID-19 pandemic, Atlanta drew 2,655,100.

UP NEXT

Mets: RHP Carlos Carrasco (15-7, 3.95 ERA) will face Nationals RHP Cory Abbott (0-4, 5.11).

Braves: RHP Bryce Elder (2-3, 2.76 ERA) will face Marlins LHP Jesus Luzardo (3-7, 3.53).