How long will Bryce Harper’s surgery keep him out of the Phillies lineup in 2023?

The Phillies learned how to survive without Bryce Harper in 2022. Those lessons will put them back to work in 2023.

Harper, the team announced, will undergo surgery next Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, to repair the injured ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. The surgery will be performed by Dr. Neal ElAttrache in Los Angeles.

Harper was examined by ElAttrache on Monday and an MRI confirmed that surgery would be required to repair the tear in his UCL.

The exact nature of the surgery won’t be determined until ElAttrache gets a real-time look inside Harper’s elbow. Depending on the extent of the injury, Harper will either have a full ligament reconstruction — Tommy John surgery — or a smaller surgery known as an internal brace procedure.

Either way, Harper will probably miss at least the first month of next season.

“With the surgery and the expectation that something will happen, I would think it will slow him down this season, but we’ll know more next week,” Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said Wednesday.

Harper injured his elbow on a throw into right field on April 11. Even when injured and unable to pitch, he was able to remain in the Phillies lineup as the designated hitter.

Tommy John surgery usually sidelines pitchers for at least a year. Of course, Harper is not a pitcher, so his recovery from Tommy John surgery could be faster. Even if he’s not ready to pitch in the outfield, he could remain the team’s DH in 2023. The question remains: when would he be ready for that role? While there’s no definitive answer because everyone heals differently, there’s this possible template: Los Angeles Angels star pitcher/slugger Shohei Ohtani had Tommy John surgery immediately after the 2018 season and was back in just over seven months as the DH of his team. For Harper, seven months after surgery would be the end of June.

If ElAttrache determines that Harper qualifies for the lesser internal braces procedure, recovery would be faster by some estimates, four to six months. Rhys Hoskins underwent surgery in early October 2020 to repair a UCL tear in his left elbow and will participate in full spring training in 2021.

Hoskins had a full off-season recovering from his surgery. Harper has that luxury for a reason. The Phillies played until November when they made the World Series for the first time since 2009. If Harper’s injury can be repaired with the internal brace procedure, a four to six month recovery period would see him into the regular season and he would likely return as just a batter as he builds his pitching prowess.

Regardless of the procedure, the Phillies will not rush Harper’s return. The 30-year-old two-time National League MVP is a huge investment with nine years left on the 13-year, $330 million contract he signed in March 2019. The team wants him to be 100 percent when he’s ready.

The Phils have experience playing without Harper. While playing through the elbow injury in 2022, he was unable to play due to the broken left thumb he suffered when hit by a pitch on June 25. Harper missed two months with the injury and the Phillies went 32-20 without him to cement their status as a competitive club.

“You never want to lose Bryce,” manager Rob Thomson said on Wednesday. “He’s one of the best hitters in baseball, if not the best. We spent a lot of time without him last year and it gave other guys a chance to step up and they did. So while we’ll miss him and I looking forward to getting him back, we will look for the same.”

With much of their off-season attention focused on extending the lineup with a bat – likely someone from the gaudy free-agent shortstop class that includes Trea Turner, Xander Bogaerts, Carlos Correa and Dansby Swanson – and adding the pitching staff, both in the rotation and the bullpen allowed the Phils to try to fill the void left by the loss of Harper from the inside, just as they did in 2022. Darick Hall emerged from the minors and provided left-handed pop with nine home runs after Harper went down. Outfielders Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber, catcher JT Realmuto and first baseman Hoskins could all be candidates for occasional replays at DH as Harper recovers. If Hoskins filled in at DH, the Phils could use Alec Bohm first and Edmundo Sosa third, improving their infield defense. This is contingent on the Phils signing a shortstop and Sosa not having to play there full-time.

Dombrowski said he would not know how Harper’s surgery would affect the offseason plans until he received a full diagnosis from ElAttrache and the medical team next week.

“We have meetings now,” Dombrowski said. “We cover every topic we can think of – clubs, possible free agent transfers, transactions – all that sort of thing. In the back of our minds there will be some discussions about, ‘What do we do if?’ Which might be nothing if we’re in a situation where we see him coming back and DHing for part of the season. We’ve got other people who can DH so we have to fit that into the overall picture of what we’ll be doing.”

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