Two big changes in the guidelines that govern Major League Baseball contributed to the Phillies’ breaking a 10-year postseason drought and embarking on an electrifying month that ultimately ended in disappointment with a loss in Game 6 of the World Series on Saturday night.
The Phillies made the postseason as the sixth seed in the National League. That playoff spot did not exist a year ago. It was added as part of the new labor agreement between MLB and the Players Association last winter.
The Phillies would not have advanced as far as they did in the postseason without the contributions of Bryce Harper. While serving as the team’s designated hitter, he had six doubles, five homers and 11 RBIs in the first three rounds of the playoffs and personally put the team in the World Series with a dramatic two-run homer in clinching Game 5 of the NL Championship Series against San Diego.
A year earlier, Harper would not have been able to play in the postseason. He suffered a tear in the ulna collateral ligament in his right elbow in April. The injury rendered him incapable of throwing without pain or risk of doing further damage. He had to stop playing right field but was able to move to designated hitter because he could swing a bat pain-free.
The designated hitter lineup spot became part of the National League game in the new basic agreement.
Throughout the season, the specter of Harper requiring surgery to fix the tear in his elbow loomed. The time to find out is here.
Harper is expected to undergo evaluation this week – an MRI will likely be included – to determine how much healing has occurred in the ligament since he first sustained the injury. The results of the evaluation will determine whether Harper needs surgery to complete the healing.
If Harper needs surgery, it will impact his readiness for next season. However, there are different surgical options, each with different timetables for recovery.
Harper could have a procedure called an internal brace. Rhys Hoskins had the procedure to fix a tear in the UCL in his left (non-throwing) elbow in early October 2020 and participated in a full spring training in 2021.
A full reconstruction of the UCL, also known as Tommy John surgery, would require a longer recovery time, but it would not necessarily eliminate the possibility of Harper’s contributing early in the 2023 season because he’s not a pitcher. He could remain as the team’s designated hitter even if he’s not ready to throw, much like he did this season. Los Angeles Angels star Shohei Ohtani is a case study in this. He had Tommy John surgery immediately after the 2018 season and was back as his team’s DH in a little over seven months.
Because of the Phillies’ postseason run, Harper has already lost a month of this offseason – for a good reason – so he and the Phillies will act quickly to determine a course of action.