Bryce Harper returns to Phillies, 160 days after Tommy John surgery

Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

LOS ANGELES – Bryce Harper has always enjoyed playing at Dodger Stadium. His return for the Philadelphia Phillies might top them all.

Harper was activated off the injured list and was in the lineup, batting third at designated hitter when the Phillies took on the Los Angeles Dodgers in the middle game of a three-game series.

The return for the two-time NL MVP came 160 days after Harper had Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. It occurred at the ballpark where he made his major league debut in 2012.

“Medically it is surprising, but by Harper genetic standards probably not,” Harper’s agent, Scott Boras, said while the Phillies were taking batting practice. “I remember last Thanksgiving we were talking about when he could come back and he mentioned May and I told him not to tell anyone that.”

When Harper had surgery on Nov. 23, the Phillies said he was expected to return around the All-Star break in mid-July. He was cleared to play after an appointment with Dr. Neal ElAttrache on Monday morning.

“I tried to go through the whole process and understand where my body and mind was. I tried to do everything I could to get to this point. It’s been a grind,” Harper said before Monday’s game.

Harper – who has a .292 batting average and six homers in 26 games at Dodger Stadium – said he will continue to wear a brace on his right elbow while hitting. He wore it most of last season after originally suffering the injury last April and batted .286 with 18 homers and 65 RBIs.

The 30-year-old Harper first suffered a small ulnar collateral ligament tear in his elbow in April. He had a platelet-rich plasma injection in May and shifted to the DH role.

When it comes to the possibility of another injury or if he is coming back too soon, Harper said he is healed the way he needs to be to play.

“Whenever you have a major surgery something could happen. It wouldn’t matter from right now to two months, we’re healed to where I need to be and play the game smart and the right way,” Harper said. “I’m not going to push the craziness of how I play and understand I help my team when I am on the field and not off it.”

Harper’s return also comes at a great time for the Phillies. The defending NL champs are 15-15, but have won seven of their last 10 games.

It adds more power to a deep Philadelphia lineup. The Phillies go into Tuesday’s game third in the majors with a .271 batting average. They have been generating their share of hits with soft contact as Statcast’s expected batting average is .244.

Philadelphia added Trea Turner – a former teammate of Harper’s in Washington – to join a batting order that includes Kyle Schwarber, Nick Castellanos and J.T. Realmuto. Brandon Marsh, who was acquired at the trade deadline from the Los Angeles Angels last year, is fifth in the majors with a .337 batting average.

“It really creates a long lineup,” manager Rob Thomson said. “When you see it, you’re going to see a couple pretty good hitters way down there because Harper is back. Once he gets hot, we’re going to be a handful.”

Thomson moved Schwarber from fifth back to leadoff, where he batted most of last season. Turner is hitting second followed by Harper, Castellanos and Bryson Stott.

Thomson said with the number of days off that the Phillies have in May, the expectation is that Harper can be in the lineup every day as long as he remains healthy.

When it comes to the possibility of when Harper will return to the field, Thomson said that is likely to be a couple months away. Harper has played mostly right field, but is taking grounders and throwing from first base.

Thomson’s biggest worry at the moment is making sure Harper gets off to a good start at the plate.

“I wouldn’t be surprised where it is going to take some time to get true timing back but I’m pretty confident in his abilities,” Thomson said.

To make room for Harper, the Phillies optioned outfielder Jake Cave to Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

Orioles sign OF Aaron Hicks, put Cedric Mullins on 10-day IL with groin strain

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

BALTIMORE — The Baltimore Orioles signed outfielder Aaron Hicks less than 24 hours after Cedric Mullins went down with a strained right groin.

Mullins went on the 10-day injured list, but the Orioles are hoping Hicks can help defensively in the spacious outfield at Camden Yards. Hicks was released last week by the New York Yankees with more than 2 1/2 seasons left on his contract.

“We had noticed that he was a free agent even before the injury,” Orioles general manager Mike Elias said. “When the injury occurred and it became pretty clear this was going to be an IL, it seemed like a good fit even more so at that time.”

The Orioles are responsible for paying Hicks just $483,871, a prorated share of the $720,000 minimum salary. The Yankees owe him the rest of his $10.5 million salary this year, plus $9.5 million in each of the next two seasons and a $1 million buyout of a 2026 team option.

The 33-year-old Hicks hit just .188 in 28 games for the Yankees this year.

“We have stuff that we look at from a scouting and evaluation perspective,” Elias said. “It’s very different from just looking at the back of a baseball card, and we hope that we get a bounceback from anyone we bring here.”

Hicks batted .216 last season.

“Hopefully that’s a good thing for him,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said of the Baltimore deal. “A lot of time here and a lot of good things happened for him here. I know the last couple of years have been a struggle. But hopefully it’s a good opportunity for him and certainly wish him well. Not too well being in our division and a team we’re chasing, but hopefully it’s a really good fit for him.”

Mullins left a loss to Cleveland after he pulled up while running out an infield grounder. Outfielder Colton Cowser – the fifth pick in the draft two years ago – is hitting .331 at Triple-A Norfolk, but he went on the IL in the past couple weeks.

“Certainly he was building a case towards promotion consideration prior to his injury and prior to Cedric’s injury,” Elias said. “We’ll just see where we’re at.”

Hicks was active for the game but not in the starting lineup. Austin Hays, normally Baltimore’s left field, was in Mullins’ usual spot in center.

When the wall in left at Camden Yards was pushed significantly back before last season, it made left field a bigger challenge defensively.

“In this park … you really need two center fielders,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “Aaron’s got a lot of center-field experience. Played left field here before also. Brings the defensive aspect and then the switch-hitting.”