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Washington Nationals’ Will Harris closing in on return to bullpen; working on groin issue

“If things go as I hope tomorrow, then that should be it,” Will Harris said of a live bullpen planned for tomorrow that could prepare him to return to the Nationals’ bullpen.

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Washington Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez updated reporters on Will Harris’s progress, as the 35-year-old reliever dealt with a strained right groin, after the Nationals’ bullpen blew a lead on Saturday night.

Harris went on the 10-Day Injured List on July 31st (retroactive to 7/29), so if his injury healed up, he was set to return, and could add depth to the back end of the bullpen, Martinez said.

“He’s getting better,” Martinez explained over the weekend. “He’s going to throw another side tomorrow and we’ll see how that goes. But he’s feeling better. He threw the ball well the other day, so we’ll get him to throw another side tomorrow and then we’ll go from there.”

“He’s thrown off the mound,” the manager added. “Hopefully sometime in the next few days we get him to face some hitters.”

When he spoke to reporters on Monday afternoon, in advance of the Nationals’ opener with the New York Mets in Citi Field, Martinez said Harris, who signed a 3-year/$24M with the Nats this winter, was set to face some hitters in the next step in his progression towards a return.

“I talked to him today and he said he felt good,” Martinez relayed. “He’s going to throw to hitters tomorrow, and then we’ll go from there.”

Harris joined the team for the trip to Flushing, Queens, NY, in the hope that he’ll be ready to come off the IL sooner than later.

“We wanted to bring him here,” Martinez said.

“If that goes well, I’m going to talk to him afterwards, and hopefully if everything goes well, we can activate him as soon as possible. But it’s all based on how he feels. I’m not going to jump the gun. I want to put eyes on him. I want to see him. I know he feels good. I want to see how the ball is coming out and make sure that he’s good to go.”

Harris dismissed the idea that some relievers like Sean Doolittle struggling right now would lead him to rush back from the injury so he can help the club.

“If you pitch long enough, there’s a lot of failures,” the nine-year veteran said in his own Zoom call from Citi Field on Monday afternoon.

“I actually heard a good quote the other day,” Harris said, “that ‘Failure is an event, it’s not a person.’

“And so, it’s just one day, maybe two days, heck, maybe three days, maybe a week, maybe a month, guys are going to struggle if you play this game long enough.

“I think I just want to help the team win as a whole, maybe not necessarily just a bullpen group, even though I want to be a contributing factor to a bullpen here and I want to be successful here, and be a guy that everyone can kind of count on, so yeah, I’m anxious to get back, but the fact of guys having a couple of bad outings, it hasn’t pressured me more, it’s just that’s baseball, you play it long enough, those things happen. It happens a lot. It’s just part of the deal.”

That’s not to say that Harris isn’t working hard to get back on the mound for the Nationals, it’s just that he wants to make sure the groin is completely healed before he comes off the IL.

“Kind of had groin issues for a while, so it’s been something that never has been too, I guess serious, where I needed to go on the [IL] or something like that, but I’ve dealt with it now for multiple years,” Harris said.

“It actually came on in the exhibition game against Baltimore. Felt it before I went out there, but still wanted to get my work in. Was able to still pitch. Got it to kind of go away, and then that outing against Toronto it came back, but much worse. So from there it was just a matter of resting it and getting all the inflammation out, then building up my strength slowly. Kind of taking it day-by-day over the last six or seven days, which is going really, really well. I’m really happy with how I felt. And the things I’ve been working on, kind of what I said, I’ve injured it quite a few times over the years.

“So I’m trying to eliminate or lower the chances of it happening again.”

The results while he tried to work through the groin issue weren’t good, and some of the mechanical changes he made over the years as he dealt with the problem weren’t really helping.

“I think any pitcher will tell you, when you have a groin injury you can still kind of do it, but you obviously favor it a lot, and you don’t want to feel that pulling anymore, so I’ve done it so many times over the past, I kind of know how to still get the ball to home plate, but that one was by far the worst one,” Harris acknowledged.

“The mechanics of it get too technical, but just really early on everything, really getting into my left side and getting off my right side because I didn’t want to put pressure on it, and it changes everything. I can tell by the way the ball is moving. Obviously by the velocity, that it wasn’t very good.”

Has the relatively short stint on the IL really provided enough time to undo some of the bad habits he developed?

“I hope so,” Harris said. “I’ve felt a lot of positives the last few days. My first bullpen not so much, when I was in Fredericksburg, [VA].

“Just — I’m diving into this stuff every minute of the day for the last two weeks and I’m hoping that I got something.

“My bullpen yesterday went really well, tomorrow will tell me a lot when I throw a live [bullpen]. And I haven’t felt my groin one time and my arm has felt really good, and even playing catch with a guy in that outfield that I’ve thrown with a bunch of times, was like, ‘Man, your stuff looks better, it looks sharper.’ So, I’m hoping that translates. It doesn’t always, but I’m hoping it does.”

As much as he might want to get back at it, Harris reiterated, he doesn’t want to return only to have it become a problem again.

“Being in my history of it — and this one being worse than any one I’ve ever had in the past and having to actually miss time, was kind of a, hey, I need to make sure that I get this right, because I don’t want to hurt it again and be dealing with it in the offseason, and things like that, and then maybe miss more time,” he said. So, I’m trying to be real patient, take it a day at a time, and as long as it’s responding well like it has, then I’m going to keep pushing forward at the pace that everybody seems to agree with.

“Like I said, tomorrow hopefully it goes well. If it doesn’t, if I’m a little sore, I’ll take a step back, reevaluate, and do it again.”

But if it does go well, will that be the final step before a return?

“If things go as I hope tomorrow, then that should be it,” the reliever said.

“Facing some hitters, and throwing probably 15-20 pitches, if everything feels good and I get the outcomes that I like, then I think there’s no reason why that can’t be it.”