Bryce Harper’s return to the majors continued Wednesday night at Class A Potomac in Woodbridge, the second straight day of playing in minor league rehab games after missing a month with left knee bursitis. Although the potential for more rain and slick field conditions kept Harper from playing the outfield, he logged three at-bats over five innings as a designated hitter and, on one swing, displayed the power the Nationals’ lineup has been missing.
Harper went 1 for 3 with a strikeout, a lineout to the outfield and a soaring solo home run to right before a crowd of more than 5,000 at Pfitzner Stadium. He hobbled around briefly during his final at-bat after fouling a ball of his right foot, viewed as a minor nick. He is 2 for 4 in eight innings of play over two rehab games here.
“His knee feels good,” Potomac Manager Brian Daubach said. “Now it’s about getting his timing and getting more at-bats.”
A horde of fans snapped photos and sought autographs as Harper escaped through a side exit outside the Potomac clubhouse. Harper, again, wasn’t allowed to speak with reporters, according to a memo from the Nationals public relations staff, until he plays a full game.
Barring any injury setbacks, that could happen Thursday at Potomac or in Class AA Harrisburg’s game at Bowie. The plan when he started his rehab assignment called for him to play a full game Thursday and then rest Friday, play another full game with Harrisburg on Saturday, rest again on Sunday and return to the Nationals on Monday. (That, however, has been subject to change.) Harper, on the disabled list, hasn’t played in the majors since May 26 and received a cortisone and PRP injection in his left knee from James Andrews on June 10.
Harper was originally slated to start and play six innings in left field Wednesday. But because there was light rain earlier in the day and the forecast called for a chance of thunderstorms in the evening, Harper was moved to designated hitter. Other than the weight he put on his back leg when hitting, the only way Harper could test his knee was on the base paths. On Wednesday, he did little of that.
Harper took batting practice with no knee pad but appeared to wear one during the game. He played catch, ran and worked out with minor league outfield coordinator Gary Thurman. ”He didn’t get a chance to run [during the game] but he ran good early,” Daubach said.
He struck out on five pitches in his first at-bat, missing a high change-up from Myrtle Beach right-hander Jerad Eickhoff. In his second at-bat, Harper worked into a 3-1 count. He then launched the a change-up high into the air and over the right field wall, about 325 feet away. (That wouldn’t have been a home run at Nationals Park but the crowd in Woodbridge stood to applaud.) Harper ran around the bases, but not with the same ferocity he is known for during his major league home run trots.
Harper provided a minor scare in his final at-bat of the night in the fifth inning. He fell behind 0-2 but held off pitches to put himself in a 3-2 count. With a full count, Harper fouled a ball off his right foot. He hobbled around the grass and crouched down to stretch his legs. Daubach and a trainer came out to talk with Harper but he remained in the game. He lined the next pitch, the eighth of the at-bat, to the right fielder to end the at-bat and his night.
“He chased some pitches up that he probably wasn’t happy with,” Daubach said. “But the same way when [Jayson] Werth was here. He had a long eight or 10-pitch at-bat and I said, ‘That one is going to get locked in.’ Over the next couple days he swung the bat like he wanted to. Harper will get that eventually and maybe it was tonight.”