Bryce Harper took his first two-handed swings since he underwent surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left thumb, an activity that has the Nationals hoping Harper could return in two weeks, Manager Matt Williams said.
Harper had been swinging a bat with one hand to keep his core muscles in shape. Tuesday afternoon, for the first time since April, Harper whacked soft tosses in a batting cage. The Nationals plan for Harper to take a full batting practice on the field in the coming days, Williams said. After Harper swung Tuesday, Williams spoke with him in his office.
“He feels good,” Williams said. “He feels ready to go – to take the next step, anyway. It went fine. He didn’t have any complaints about it. It’s not full-go, and it’s not full batting practice yet. But he’s excited about the progression of it, moving forward. It won’t be long.”
Harper has said he will not rush back in his recovery and shied away from setting deadlines. Williams, though, reiterated that he hopes Harper can return July 1. “If all goes well, that’s kind of the timeframe,” Williams said.
Once Harper returns, Williams has said he plans to move Ryan Zimmerman back to third base and play Harper in left field, the position where he started the season. Harper’s full health would give the Nationals myriad choices, including the extreme of options of trading Denard Span, moving Harper to center — the position he prefers — and keeping Zimmerman at third. General Manager Mike Rizzo said he does not anticipate any major shakeup.
“I haven’t even entertained it yet,” Rizzo said. “I’m waiting for Harp to get closer to make sure where he’s at, what his timeline is. Then we’ll make those decisions. I don’t foresee making any roster moves or big trades because Bryce Harper is coming back off the disabled list.”
Rizzo repeated an oft-used refrain when the topic of Harper’s return surfaces. “These things usually have a way of taking care of themselves,” he said. In other words: Either an injury to a Nationals regular or some other factor – like a slump – could make the Nationals’ decision for them. Rizzo simply focused on the benefit of Harper’s bat sliding back into their lineup.
“Him being healthy would change a lot of things for the positive,” Rizzo said.
In other injury updates, Gio Gonzalez remains on track to come off the disabled and start Wednesday, giving the Nationals a full, healthy rotation for only the second time this season.
“We were here yesterday for his bullpen” session,” Williams said. “He threw really well. The ball was coming out really good. It will be nice to have him back. He’s been itching to get back, too. So he reported no pain, no discomfort throwing yesterday. Health-wise, he’s good. He’s good to go, excited about that.”
The Nationals still expect catcher Wilson Ramos to return after a minimum, 15-day stay on the disabled list with a left hamstring strain, which he suffered last week in San Francisco. Before he returns, Ramos will play in a minor league rehab assignment. Once he returns, Williams said, the Nationals will dissuade Ramos from taking extra bases on toss-up plays.
“It’s hard to rein that in in the heat of the moment,” Williams said. “But we will express to him, ‘We want you to not take chances, and make sure we can have you healthy for the remainder of the regular season.’ That’s a conversation we’ll. But, jeez, if the ball’s in the gap, he’s still got to go first to third. We want to make sure he’s healthy enough to do that.”
And one other Harper-related note: Harper’s brother, left-handed reliever Bryan Harper, was promoted from Class A Potomac to Class AA Harrisburg.