Bryce Harper missed 41 games while recovering from the significant bone bruise in his left knee and the calf strain in his left leg he suffered slipping on the first base bag on August 12th in the nation’s capital.
Early on Tuesday afternoon, the Washington Nationals reinstated the 24-year-old right fielder from the Disabled List and Dusty Baker penciled Harper in batting second in the Nats’ lineup for the second of three with the Philadelphia Phillies in Citizens Bank Park.
“I talked to the trainers,” Baker told reporters before game.
“They said he was kind of giddy like a little on opening Little League day or something, and he’s excited, and we’re excited, just going to have to be his conscience for him, when I think he’s had enough or maybe needs more or whatever. Just happy to have him back.”
“I’m excited,” Harper told reporters, including MASN’s Byron Kerr. “Everybody knows it could’ve been a lot worse with how the impact of the injury was.”
Harper said he was just happy to be back, regardless of the results as he tries to work his way back into form before the start of the postseason.
“I just want to play. I don’t want to worry about what’s going to happen or this or that. 0-for-4, 4-for-4, just trying to see how it feels and go about it the right way. Just try to play my game.”
Baker acknowledged that he would have liked to have had Harper start up sooner, but the fact that he’s even back now, as he’s said over the last week, is a minor miracle.
“We would have liked to have done it last week,” Baker said, “but sometimes your body doesn’t respond to your plan. Your body responds to its own plan. We had to listen to his body and the trainers and everybody.”
While he has a set plan for ramping Harper up, Baker said he would also react to what he sees from the 24-year-old outfielder.
“I always have a plan,” Baker explained, “but there’s just also a feel thing in there as to what I see, and hopefully they trust me to go along with it.”
Harper said he was ready and raring to go.
“I feel fine. If I wasn’t ready to go, I wouldn’t be in the lineup,” he said. “Excited to be back out there with the guys, with the team.”
Excited as he was, Harper took what Phillies’ righty Jake Thompson gave him in his first at bat, taking a four-pitch walk in his first major league plate appearance in six-plus weeks.
He K’d swinging over a 2-2 changeup in his second trip to the plate, and popped up to the infield in his final plate appearance, leaving him 0 for 2 with the walk before he was lifted.
In the field, he had one ball hit his way, a two-out line drive double by Aaron Alther that Harper fielded in the corner and threw back in quickly.
“It looked like nothing was wrong,” Baker told reporters in Citizens Bank Park, after what ended up a 4-1 loss.
“And that’s a testament to our training staff and how hard he’s worked, and we didn’t see any signs of, like I said, him limping, and when he made that play down in the corner, he showed good arm strength and he showed good balance and control, so that was a big step.”
“Going after that ball in right field Altherr hit down the line, felt fine,” Harper said.
“Got to speed it up a little bit on that play so I was happy about that,” he added. “
Those are the plays that I want to be able to make still and get down that line quick and keep him at second.”
Overall, Baker said, Harper, “... looked pretty good. I mean his timing is off a little bit, but he moved around good, didn’t see any signs of limping or real fatigue, so we got him out of there we thought at the right time.
“He got three at bats, and so the good thing is the more pitches he sees the better and quicker his timing will get there.”
Harper said he was just happy to see some pitches, and get a few at bats in after all that time off.
“I was just happy I got in some deep counts, first one and second one as well. Got two pitches over the plate that third at bat that I thought I could drive, so try to attack those the best I could, but saw a lot of pitches tonight and I was happy about that.”
Now it’s just about seeing how his knee and left leg react to the first test.
We’ll know how it went when the lineup is released tomorrow afternoon, but when he talked after the game, Harper said he felt fine.
“Just try to get past tonight and see what I feel like tomorrow. If I feel good then I’ll play, if I don’t then I’ll take a day and see how I feel that next day in D.C.”