An elbow issue that’s relegated Bryce Harper to DH duties since mid-April has been diagnosed as a ’small tear’ in his UCL, reports Alex Coffey of the Philadelphia Enquirer. While the reigning NL MVP remains able to swing the bat, he’ll undergo a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection on Sunday that will keep him out of the Phillies lineup on Sunday, and possibly into early next week.
The team had previously called the issue a mild elbow sprain, but a visit to Dr. Neal ElAttrache confirmed a test from last week that appeared to show a small tear in his ulnar collateral ligament — the same ligament replaced in Tommy John surgeries. Whether or not such a surgery is in Harper’s future remains to be seen, but it appears that the Phils’ present intention is to keep Harper’s bat in the lineup in whatever way possible.
Signed by the Phillies to a 13-year, $330MM deal ahead of the 2019 season, Harper has mostly lived up to his billing, compiling a .280/.396/.553 triple-slash — good for a 145 wRC+ — in the first three-plus seasons of the deal. 2021 marked his best season in Philadelphia, as he led the majors in both slugging percentage and OPS with a .309/.429/.615 batting line (a 170 wRC+, also best in the bigs) en route to his second NL MVP.
Whatever the prognosis, Joe Girardi’s squad can ill afford to have Harper out of the lineup for long. It’s still early, of course, but the Phillies are already seven games off the pace in the NL East. They may have suffered a bit of bad luck already early in the year: despite a run differential of plus-ten, for instance, the Phillies are three games under .500 entering play on Thursday, and neither the offense (with a collective wRC+ of 106) nor the pitching staff (which has an xFIP of .365, ninth in the bigs) has clearly underperformed. Still, with both the red-hot Mets and the defending World Series champion Braves (not to mention the pitching-rich Marlins) in the same division, Girardi will need to right the ship sooner than later if his team wants to keep alive more than faint hopes for a division title.
After signing both Nick Castellanos (to a five-year, $100MM deal) and Kyle Schwarber (four years, $79MM) in the offseason, the Phils were already playing with defensive fire, but the expectation had been that one of the two would serve as the DH the vast majority of the time. While both have provided some punch at the plate (Castellanos much more so, with a 147 wRC+ to Schwarber’s 99), they’re also both liabilities on defense — an effect that’s amplified when they share an outfield. Harper has rated out as roughly average in right (his 9.9 career UZR suggests he’s saved roughly ten runs over his eleven-year career, though defensive advanced stats are far more controversial than offensive), but his replacement with either Castellanos or Schwarber represents a substantial downgrade.