PHILADELPHIA — The Nationals activated Bryce Harper from the 10-day disabled list Tuesday afternoon, hours before facing the Phillies in the second of a three-game series. He’s in Washington’s lineup and will bat second after missing 42 games because of a significant bone bruise and strained calf in his left leg.
The five-time all-star, who said his left leg is pain-free and he wouldn’t return if it wasn’t, returns with six games remaining on the Nationals’ regular season schedule. The plan is for Harper’s workload to increase by game, starting him but not having him play all nine innings immediately.
“I just want to play,” Harper said. “I don’t want to worry about what’s going to happen or this or that. Zero for four. Four for four. Just trying to see how it feels and go about it the right way. Just try to play my game.”
Harper sustained his leg injuries when he slipped on a wet first base in the first inning of a game played at Nationals Park after a three-hour rain delay on Aug. 13. The injury was the biggest blow to a club that had been experiencing significant injuries all season. It also derailed the right fielder’s MVP push; Harper was batting .326 with a 1.034 OPS and 29 home runs when he tumbled and landed in immense pain behind first base at Nationals Park. He’s 30 plate appearance shy of qualifying for the batting title — a number he likely won’t reach.
“He’s a huge player for us,” Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo said. “He’s one of the elite players in the game and his presence in the lineup means a lot — not only for him, but for everybody in the lineup. He lengthens us greatly and makes the middle of the lineup potent, and I think he’ll change the whole pitching attack on how teams to pitch to players around him.”
Harper and the Nationals thought the worst initially when he went down, but tests revealed Harper avoided a season-ending injury. By the next day, Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo was optimistic Harper would return this season. When, exactly, was unclear, but Harper made strides in his recovery. Nine days ago, the 24-year-old Harper began taking batting practice on the field, putting on a show with each session. He also participated in two simulated games over the past week.
Harper, however, hasn’t played in a real game since the injury. The club could’ve sent him to Florida to play in its instructional league, which started Monday, to accumulate plate appearances, but decided to get him time in the major leagues immediately. His planned return Monday was delayed because he woke up with flulike symptoms, but Harper reported to work Tuesday well enough to play and provide the jolt the Nationals have been waiting eagerly anticipating.
“I talked to the trainers,” Baker said. “They said he was kind of giddy like a little kid on opening Little League day or something. He’s excited. We’re excited. Just going to have to be his conscience for him. If I think he’s had enough or maybe needs more or whatever, just happy to have him back.”
Harper batted second in four of the Nationals’ five playoff games last season, and putting him there in the postseason this time around is a possibility. But Baker said he placed Harper there Tuesday more to have him accumulate as many at-bats as possible before he’s removed from the game. As for the rest of the lineup, Daniel Murphy is absent for the second straight game. Baker said Murphy, who sat Monday with “general soreness,” has been hitting and could’ve played, but he decided to give him the day off.
Trea Turner SS
Bryce Harper RF
Anthony Rendon 3B
Ryan Zimmerman 1B
Howie Kendrick 2B
Jayson Werth LF
Michael A. Taylor CF
Matt Wieters C
Gio Gonzalez LHP
Cesar Hernandez 2B
Freddy Galvis SS
Aaron Altherr RF
Rhys Hoskins LF
Tommy Joseph 1B
Odubel Herrera CF
Cameron Rupp C
J.P. Crawford 3B
Jake Thompson RHP