WASHINGTON — Outfielder Bryce Harper returned to the Washington Nationals’ lineup on Tuesday to a feeling of great relief from the masses and Nats’ brass. Already by Thursday, there is some degree of anxiety with the playoffs right around the corner.
“Each day that goes by is another day that he can get sharp and well,” manager Dusty Baker said. “I already think he’s well, but he’s got to get sharp.”
Harper was absent from the Nats’ lineup on Thursday, but the move is seen as precautionary. The plan is to play him in each of the team’s three games this weekend to close out the regular season.
“Don’t be alarmed…I don’t see any limps, I don’t see him stumble,” Baker remarked on his return. “When he turns and pivots to make a throw, he looked really good.
“You wouldn’t know that he’s been out a period of time other than his timing on missing some balls, missing the bat head, which is to be expected. Hopefully, he can get that here pretty soon.”
Harper has one hit and a walk in seven plate appearances since returning, while also striking out twice. He was lifted early from both games, a move that you might see with veterans in Spring Training or rehab starts. With a day off Thursday, the hope is that the training wheels come off for good.
For Harper, the most important day is the next day, and how he feels coming back from a gruesome-looking injury.
“I’m focused on how I feel that next day and how I feel going after a ball and how I feel,” Harper said Tuesday after the game. “Timing is huge but the more at-bats I have, and those four days off that we have [before the start of the NLDS]. I’ll be OK.
“I just want to feel good. I just want to be healthy and we’ll get there.”