Bryce Harper could return as soon as Monday

Bryce Harper before his rehab assignment. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

Bryce Harper will play at least three more rehab games and could return to Washington’s lineup as soon as Monday, according to Nationals Manager Matt Williams. Harper is the lone remaining Nationals regular on the disabled list, and his return would reunite the entire lineup for the first time since opening day. The outfielder has been out since April 26 because of surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left thumb.

Harper played seven innings in right field on Thursday night with Class AA Harrisburg in Akron, Ohio, going 1 for 3 with a double, a walk and a run scored. He is expected to play nine innings in center field on Friday night. Saturday is scheduled as a day off, or Harper can serve as the designated hitter if he chooses.

Harper would then play nine innings again on Sunday, but in left field. This would set up a potential return for Harper on Monday in Washington against the Colorado Rockies. (Oddly enough, June 30 is also Bryce Harper bobblehead giveaway day at Nationals Park.)

“It depends how everything goes, how he feels,” Williams said. “When he comes back, we want him to feel good at the plate, feel good in the field, legs underneath him, full-go. We don’t know how the next three or four days are going to go, but he’s well on his way. He’s had great games so far, but it takes time.”

Williams initially targeted July 1 as an approximate return date for Harper, and the outfielder said he wanted to play at least seven to eight rehab games before returning. If Harper doesn’t play on Saturday and returns Monday, he will have played only five rehab games and rejoined the Nationals earlier than expected.

Before and during his rehab assignment, Harper stated that his preferred position when he returns is center field. Ryan Zimmerman has found a home for his chronic right shoulder in left field, but Denard Span has been the Nationals’ everyday center fielder since last season. Williams has said he plans to rotate players around several positions. He hopes to play Harper in all three outfield positions, rotating days off for other outfielders and potentially playing Zimmerman back at his old position at third base.

The last time Harper played right field in the majors he crashed into a wall at Dodger Stadium and hurt his knee. As a result, Harper expressed mixed feelings about playing right field again when he returned.

“We’ll talk to him about what our plans are moving forward and how we’re going to do it and what the needs may be for the club,” Williams said. “But he’s a great athlete. He can play anywhere. That’s why he’s playing all three, just to get a feel for them. We just don’t know how it’s all going to pan out when everybody gets back. It’s a great problem to have, but there are some decisions to be made on an everyday basis. That’s why he’s playing all three.”

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