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Dusty Baker on Bryce Harper’s return to the Nationals’ lineup: “I thought he looked great.”

Bryce Harper missed five games with a neck issue that was the source of much speculation, but he returned to the Nationals’ lineup on Sunday.

Atlanta Braves v Washington Nationals Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

Both GM Mike Rizzo and Washington Nationals’ skipper Dusty Baker talked on Saturday about why they had not yet put Bryce Harper on the DL even though the struggling, 23-year-old slugger had missed five games while battling a neck issue which had been described at times by the team as neck stiffness or spasms.

Another report, which the Nationals dismissed, suggested that Harper was dealing with a previously undisclosed shoulder issue.

With Harper day-to-day, they explained, they didn’t want to rush him back if he wasn’t ready or put him on the DL and not him have available if he suddenly felt better.

“Sometimes you have to wait until it lets you go,” Baker said of the neck issues Harper was dealing with. “I’m hoping that it lets him go pretty soon, because you don’t want to be without him, you don’t want to be short, and then you don’t want to kind of use him in a game in case you might have to, a worst scenario, put him on the DL and backdate the time, because right now ... he’s been out [five] games, and so if I use him and something did go wrong, adversely, then it would start from tonight, or tomorrow. So we’re doing all we can, he’s doing all he can to try to alleviate this problem.”

Rizzo told reporters, including Washington Post writer Chelsea Janes, that it was simple, really.

“If he can play tonight, I want him to play tonight,” Rizzo said.

Harper didn’t play in Saturday’s night’s game against the Atlanta Braves, and his name was not in the lineup when it was originally released on Sunday.

About an hour after the lineup was released, however, the Nationals issued an update.

For the first time since August 6th, Harper was penciled in, in right field, batting third.

In his first at bat in five games, Harper took a 2-1 fastball from Braves’ starter Tyrell Jenkins to left for a sliced opposite field, RBI double that put the Nationals up 2-0 in the first. Harper scored himself on a sac fly for a 3-0 lead early in the series finale.

Harper was 1 for 2 when he stepped in with runners on first and second and one out in the home-half of the fifth and drew a base-loading walk. Wilson Ramos hit a sac fly to right the next at bat to bring Trea Turner in for a 4-1 lead.

Harper went 1 for 3 with a walk and a K in his first game in eight days.

Baker talked after the 9-1 win over the Braves about how Harper’s return to the lineup came about.

“It came about I was going to give him another day,” Baker said. “But he came in and he told me he wanted to play, and I told him, ‘No,’ and he told me, ‘Please?’

“How do you tell a grown man who says it so politely that he wanted to play, and so I put him back in the lineup. He actually sounded like a little kid when he said it... and I’m partial to kids sometimes.”

"I felt pretty good," Harper told reporters, as quoted by CSN Mid-Atlantic’s Chase Hughes, when he spoke after the game.

"Made the decision this morning to get back in there. I felt like I could possibly help the team win today. That was the best thing.”:

"If I can help the team win and do everything possible to do that and play to the best of my abilities, I’ll be OK. Like I said, I wouldn’t be in the lineup if I couldn’t help the team. And I wasn’t earlier in the week. Today, I felt good, came in, told them I could play.”

Baker said he liked what he saw from Harper in his return to the lineup.

“I thought he looked great. He got us on the board there in the first inning. Nice to see him hit the ball to left field like that and he played well. And it was a welcome sight.”

So, Baker was asked, is Harper good to go now? He said one play in particular, a strong though late throw from right field to third base convinced him Harper was okay.

“He’s good to go. Yeah. He’s good to go,” Baker said. “When he cut that ball loose trying to throw out Ender Inciarte at third base, that was a great indicator that he had no apprehension about throwing or anything and evidently his neck must be feeling better.”

We talked about Harper’s return, the Nationals’ win and more on Nats Nightly: