HARPER’S RETURN BY LATE-MAY — REALISTIC OR A HEAD FAKE?

By Peter Marks

So Phillies big boss Dave Dombrowski gave fans some that Bryce Harper may be back before the All-Star game in July after his reconstructive right elbow surgery.

While Harper will begin the season on the injured list, Dombrowski said Tuesday that the two-time National League MVP will not, for now, be placed on the longer 60-day IL that would mean he couldn’t be activated before the end of May.

“I’m not setting any dates, but I’m just keeping that option open rather than closing an option,” Dombrowski said from the team’s spring training facility in Clearwater, Florida.

So, is this just a sop to the fans who are desperate to see the 2021 MVP back in red stripes?

Or is it a head fake?

After Harper had Tommy John surgery in November, the National League champions said they expected him back in the lineup as their designated hitter by the All-Star break in July. The slugger indicated the same when he got to camp last month, adding that they were going to be smart about his recovery and rehab.

Dombrowski said the timetable hasn’t really changed, and that the Phillies could still use the 60-day IL if they need to open a spot on the 40-man roster and know then Harper wouldn’t be back before the end of May.

“So it’s really not a great revelation other than to just say the reality is, I’m going to just keep our options open, because who knows what happens,” Dombrowski said.

Going into the fifth season of a $330 million, 13-year contract with the Phillies, Harper 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, helping lead the Phillies to their first World Series appearance since 2009.

Dombrowski said Harper, who for now is still hitting soft toss in the batting cages every other day, is feeling great and has no pain.

“All I’ve said, and all I’ll continue to say, it’ll be before the All-Star break is our hope,” Dombrowski said. “But I’m also going to keep the option open that we’ll see what happens.”

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