Bryce Harper isn’t back with the Nationals yet, but he’s already making an impression again.
The left fielder belted a home run for Class A Potomac during his second rehab assignment game Tuesday night. This followed some stellar batting practice appearances a week ago at Nationals Park, where the young slugger was seen crushing balls into the stands for lucky fans to pick up as souvenirs.
Simply put, Harper’s return is near. The Tuesday estimate that manager Matt Williams previously gave seems realistic.
“I want to go out there and try to be a game changer,” Harper said.
Prior to tearing a ligament in his left thumb on April 25, Harper was hitting .289 with one home run and nine RBIs in 22 games.
With catcher Wilson Ramos activated from the disabled list Thursday, Harper’s return should bolster the lineup to where hitters two through eight showcase some level of power. When both players return, it will also mark the first time the Nationals are at full strength since opening day.
“It gives us opportunities, potentially, to give guys some days off too, which we haven’t had the ability to do,” Williams said.
Since his homer in Potomac, Harper has moved on to Class AA Harrisburg, the minor league team his brother Bryan Harper pitches for.
Though forced to spend time away from baseball, Harper doesn’t regret opting for midseason surgery. A year ago, he played through a litany of injuries and was in constant pain throughout the season. He said he’d never do that again.
“Going through the knee surgery [in the offseason], I wish I would’ve done it in the middle of the year last year,” Harper said. “Going forward, my thumb feels great. I have no trouble with it at all.”
Harper should resume left field duties when he does make his Washington return. Ryan Zimmerman will likely move back to third base with Anthony Rendon playing second. Harper could get some time in center and right field, especially early on since Denard Span and Jayson Werth could use days off. Regardless, Harper just wants to be back with his team.
“It doesn’t really matter to me,” he said. “I just want to play and want to be in the lineup. Hopefully I can come back and help the team win.”