Bryce Harper plays catch in late May without using left hand. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Bryce Harper will grip a bat and take light dry swings next week when the Nationals return from their road trip, in addition to playing light catch, according to Nationals Manager Matt Williams. It will be the first time Harper, who has been on the disabled list since April 26 and underwent surgery to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his left thumb, has swung a bat or played catch.

Harper has been strengthening his thumb over the past several weeks. When he has played catch, a trainer caught the ball, flipped it to him and Harper threw it. Now, Harper will catch the ball in his glove hand, which underwent surgery, and get accustomed to the ball hitting him there again. Harper will also hold a bat in his hands, begin to get the feel for his grip back and take light swings, Williams said.

“He’ll be able to grip and do some small things but he’s not going to be on the field taking BP first day,” Williams said. “It’s a process. I think he’s getting close. I know he’s itching. He’s getting close to getting the baseball stuff going. With his youth, that won’t take long anyway. We just want to make sure it’s healed before he starts that. Part of the process is getting the bat back in his hands and start doing the regular things he would do with the bat and then progress to tee work and soft toss and BP then get him out there.”

Williams offered no timeline for Harper, but has said that he hoped for a July 1 return. The hitting and catching will depend on how Harper feels, he said. Harper has said he has no eye on a timetable and will rejoin the Nationals when his left hand is “100 percent or close to 100 percent.”

Holding and swinging a bat, even lightly, and playing catch will be two important steps in Harper’s eventual return. “We have to cross those hurdles so that once we turn him loose he’s ready to go,” Williams said.