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Bryce Harper takes a few steps (literally) toward returning to Nationals

Bryce Harper isn’t running yet, but he’s making strides toward a return nonetheless. (Brad Mills/USA Today Sports)
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MIAMI — Bryce Harper, wearing his cutoff “BH” brand hoodie and red Under Armour tights covering his legs, walked up and down a few rows of stairs and played catch at Marlins Park on Tuesday afternoon. Such is the 24-year-old’s stature in this game that a few minutes of such insignificant activity qualify as news of import.

Harper suffered what looked to be a devastating knee injury on Aug. 12. By Aug. 13, he and the Nationals knew the trouble was just a bone bruise — “just,” because the injury looked to be far worse, though bone bruises are not exactly simple injuries to predict recovery. Nevertheless, the expectation around the Nationals was that Harper would return this season. Last week, when he still was without a timetable, Manager Dusty Baker said the Nationals would have to plan for life without him, just in case. As such, Baker called Monday’s work “very encouraging.”

“When you see him doing light baseball activities, you know that he’s on the way,” Baker said. “Nobody can predict exactly where he is, but at least he initiated signs of progress. You can’t rush progress. You have to let progress take care of itself.”

Monday’s activity up and down the Marlins Park stairs and the game of catch that followed, certainly represented progress for Harper. He had not done either of those things — at least not within view of the public — since the injury. While Harper has been able to do weight-bearing lifts to strengthen the muscles around the injury, agility work and running will probably signal more substantial progress than his work Tuesday.

Harper, for his part, did not seem to consider Tuesday much of a step. Approached for comment, Harper was terse:

“I don’t have any update for you guys at all,” he said. “Okay?”

One can understand why Harper would not feel he had much to stay after successfully doing something he has done without much thought for most of his life. But as Baker pointed out rather candidly Tuesday afternoon, Harper’s immediate future affects the Nationals’ near future dramatically. The Nationals fell just short of the National League Championship Series last season after playing the National League Division Series without Wilson Ramos and Stephen Strasburg. One of them could have made the difference. Harper is, of course, a difference maker, too.

“At some point in time, we’re going to need Harp,” Baker said. “You see last year, we weren’t exactly the same. . . . They say injuries are no excuse, and they aren’t, but it depends on who’s hurt.”

Max Scherzer being hurt, for example, would change the complexion of the Nationals completely. But after taking a line drive to the calf and shin area in his last start, which was therefore truncated after five innings, Scherzer threw on flat ground Tuesday and expects to throw a bullpen Wednesday.

“I can’t imagine it will affect the start,” Scherzer, whose next start would come Friday against the Phillies at Nationals Park, said Tuesday. He and the rest of the Nationals’ rotation will pitch on an extra day of rest this time around, as the Nationals gave A.J. Cole a start in Monday night’s win, thereby briefly establishing a six-man rotation.

In other injury news, Matt Wieters will rest Tuesday and Wednesday, as he is still dealing with back issues. Ryan Zimmerman has Tuesday night off, but Baker said that was regularly scheduled and not a sign of trouble.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS (83-54)

Trea Turner SS

Alejandro De Aza LF

Daniel Murphy 2B

Anthony Rendon 3B

Adam Lind 1B

Jayson Werth RF

Michael A. Taylor CF

Pedro Severino C

Stephen Strasburg P

MIAMI MARLINS (67-70)

Dee Gordon 2B

Giancarlo Stanton RF

Christian Yelich CF

Marcell Ozuna LF

J.T. Realmuto C

Derek Dietrich 1B

Brian Anderson 3B

Miguel Rojas SS

Odrisamer Despaigne P

Read more on the Nationals:

Will Erick Fedde be the Nationals’ fifth starter next season?

Monday’s result: Daniel Murphy, Anthony Rendon power Nats

Gio Gonzalez is pitching smart, and that should prolong his career

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