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Washington Nationals injury update: Bryce Harper could return to Nats next week...

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Dusty Baker and Mike Rizzo provided updates on Bryce Harper’s rehab and the simulated game Harper took part in on Tuesday afternoon in Atlanta...

Washington Nationals v Miami Marlins Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

It’s conceivable, according Washington Nationals’ General Manager Mike Rizzo, who has said as much from the moment they received a diagnosis on Bryce Harper’s injured left knee, that the Nats’ 24-year-old outfielder will be able to return before the end of the regular season. Considering how things looked at first, and how bad the bone bruise in his knee and strain of his calf were, it’s something of a minor miracle he is this close to returning. At least that’s what Dusty Baker said Tuesday night.

“I had confidence the whole time,” Baker told reporters. “Like I said, I was hoping for miracles, and looks like a miracle is in the process.”

Harper injured the knee/calf running out a grounder on a wet night in the nation’s capital back on August 12th, slipping on the first base bag and coming down hard when he reached the far side, tumbled over, and hyperextended the knee.

Harper worked his way back slowly, and he was able to participate in a simulated game before the first of three with the Atlanta Braves in SunTrust Park on Tuesday night.

Two Nationals’ minor league pitchers, Sterling Sharp and Brigham Hill, came up for the day from Washington’s facility in West Palm Beach to meet the team and throw to the Nats’ 2010 No. 1 overall pick.

“It went well,” Baker said. “He moved well, he ran pretty good. His timing was off a little bit, but not too bad. He’s been hitting, and we just have to see how he feels tomorrow, and if he’s sore or not tomorrow is the key.

“So he’s not going to hit in a simulated game again tomorrow, so we’ll give him a couple days off and like I said, we’ll see how he feels.”

The plan moving forward, Baker explained, though he didn’t provide much detail, is to have another simulated game if Harper comes out of today’s action in good shape.

“We’ll address that when we get there,” Baker said. “I think he has another simulated game in New York and then we’ll make a determination from there and see how he feels and how he comes out.”

Rizzo provided a little more detail when he spoke in SunTrust Park, and was asked if it was possible, as reported by USA TODAY’s Bob Nightengale, that Harper could be back by next week.

“It’s conceivable,” Rizzo said as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman.

“We’re going to take it day-by-day and see where he’s at. He’s itching to come back and play. The leg feels good, so that’s a positive. He saw some live batting practice today. We’ll take the next step after that. If he’s ready to and strong enough to play some games and get a lot of at-bats in the Instructional League, then maybe there’s a possibility he could come back sometime before the season ends.”

Having been out of the lineup for six weeks at this point, it’s going to take some time for Harper to get back into game shape.

“He did say, you know, he’s strong but he’s a little out of shape because he hasn’t run,” Baker added. “He’s run on the AlterG, but he hasn’t run much outside.”