Bryce Harper will return Monday — not this weekend

Bryce Harper with Potomac on Tuesday. (Nick Wass/AP)

Bryce Harper with Potomac on Tuesday. (Nick Wass/AP)

Davey Johnson expressed mild optimism Thursday night that Bryce Harper may return earlier than scheduled from his rehab assignment and meet the Nationals in New York. A day later, Johnson confirmed that it was only wishful thinking, and the Nationals will stick to their original plan.

Harper had a scheduled day off from games today, taking batting indoors at soggy Bowie with Class AA Harrisburg. Harper will play a full game Saturday, and then after another day off Sunday he’ll return to the Nationals on Monday at home against the Brewers.

Harper will get a test against a major leaguer in Bowie. As CSN’s Mark Zuckerman pointed out, Orioles lefty Wei-Yin Chen will make a rehab start for Bowie as the starter comes back from an oblique injury.

So far, Harper is 4 for 8 with two walks, a triple, a double and a home run. He has tested his left knee in all manner of ways – sliding into home, beating out a bloop double, sprinting around to third on a triple. He took five plate appearances and played six innings of defense Thursday night.

“He got five at-bats, he’s been running all over the place,” Johnson said today. “Heck, he’s 20 years old. And the punishment he’s been given – he’s been diving back into bags, been having to hustle I think first-to-third, triple – he’s done just about everything and has been going full-speed. There’s been no noticeable swelling in that area. I was only concerned the first couple days, because if it was gonna act up, it was gonna act up then. And obviously his timing is pretty good.”

Still, Harper will take one more full game before stepping back in against major league pitching. Harper has said he preferred to play five or six rehab games before he comes back. Perhaps coincidentally (or perhaps not), Harper mentioned two of this weekend’s starters when stating his case for extra at-bats.

“I want to get my timing back,” Harper said last weekend, the last time he took questions from reporters. “I don’t want to come back one game after I play against high-A ball and come back facing [Zack] Wheeler and Matt Harvey or something. I’m not going to face those guys. They’d blow me away right now. That’s something I don’t want to do. I’m going play as many games as I can down there, see how I feel, and try and get back.”

Said Johnson: “If that’s what he felt like he needed and there’s been no repercussions with the knee, there’s no sense in speeding that up. We always want to do what’s best for the player, number one, and I think that’s the plan he came up with and we’re all comfortable with.”

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