CLEARWATER, Fla. - Bryce Harper made a quick return to the Phillies' lineup and picked up four plate appearances in a Grapefruit League game against the New York Yankees on Sunday afternoon.
In his first action since leaving Friday's game after taking a fastball off the right ankle, Harper struck out twice, grounded out to shortstop and walked in the 7-3 loss to the Yankees. The St. Paddy's Day crowd was a festive 11,340 - a Spectrum Field record. Harper is hitless with four walks in his 14 plate appearances with the Phils, but results don't matter for another 11 days.
All that matters at this point is that Harper is healthy. The sound of Toronto right-hander Trent Thornton's 96-mph fastball smacking against Harper's ankle left Phillies officials, fans, and Harper himself fearing significant injury. But X-rays were negative and Harper ended up missing just Saturday's game. He was cleared to serve as Sunday's designated hitter after participating in some morning running drills under the watchful eye of the Phillies' athletic training staff.
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"It felt good," Harper said after the game. "It's shocking. I can't believe I came in yesterday and had not really any swelling or bruising. I was glad I was able to get out there and it felt pretty normal."
With his health scare out of the way, Harper is looking to build timing at the plate. He saw a couple of quality major-league pitchers in James Paxton and Delin Betances and 100-mph stuff from young reliever Anderson Severino.
"It was good to get out there against another lefty in Paxton and Betances, as well, and that last guy," Harper said. "I saw velocity like I wanted to. I saw some off-speed, as well. Nothing to show for it, really, but it's getting better every day.
"The goal is definitely to get a couple knocks. I don't want to leave spring without a hit but if that happens then March 28, here we come. Timing is definitely a little behind right now. A little late on some of the pitches, especially against Paxton today. Fouled some stuff straight back. Just trying to get that the best I can."
Manager Gabe Kapler is not looking for results at this stage for Harper.
"Spring training is for exactly this," Kapler said. "It's seeing pitches, left-handed relievers, powerful starters like Paxton, guys like Betances. It's a good measuring stick just to see where you are from a timing and rhythm perspective. Obviously, we don't have any judgment on results at this point, but it's certainly good to see Bryce take down those reps.
"He's right where he needs to be. I think he's in the ideal spot. This is practice. These are reps. They're work. He's seeing pitches, working some deeper counts."
The Phillies will play their next two games, Monday and Tuesday, on the East Coast of Florida against the St. Louis Cardinals and Houston Astros, respectively. Harper, and several other veterans, will not make the cross-state trip. Harper will serve as the DH in a minor-league game at Carpenter Complex at 1 p.m. on Monday.
On Tuesday, Harper will work on his "hitter's eyes" and stand in during several pitchers' bullpen sessions. He will also participate in defensive workouts in anticipation of a planned return to right field in Wednesday's big-league game against the Detroit Tigers in Clearwater. After that, the Phillies will play five more Grapefruit League games before opening day.
"I don't know if we're going to have to play him every single day but we want to get him as many reps are as comfortable for him," Kapler said. "We also don't feel like there's a big rush or a time crunch. We feel like he's going to have his timing and rhythm down for opening day and that's what's most important. We don't have to speed things up or force things."
Kapler was assured of Harper's good health when he saw the slugger run to first base on a ground out in the fourth inning Sunday.
"Watching (Andrew) McCutchen, (Jean) Segura, Harper and (Rhys) Hoskins run down the line - all of those guys busted it out the box," Kapler said. "It's not often that you see the All-Star caliber players on a team, former MVPs and MVP candidates, setting the tone by running the bases when it doesn't matter and I was inspired by that."
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