Posted on September 25, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine
After missing more than a month with a hyperextended knee, Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper is ready to return to the field. Multiple sources are reporting that Harper will be activated on Monday and play for the Nationals over the final week of the regular season. Harper has missed 40 games due to the knee injury. But he will have seven games to get himself back in game shape before the postseason gets underway.
Nationals manager Dusty Baker was non-committal about Harper following Sunday’s game. But all signs point to Harper being back on Monday. Harper has played in two simulated games, including one Saturday, but there’s no better preparation than facing live major league pitching in an actual game.
“He’s chomping at the bit to come back,” Baker said after Saturday’s simulated game. “We’re chomping at the bit to have him back, but we have to do what’s best for him and us in the long run as well.”
Before going to the DL in August, Harper was one of the leading candidates for National League MVP. On the season, he’s hitting .326 with an OPS of 1.034. How nearly a month and a half away will impact his MVP candidacy remains to be seen. More importantly, it remains to be seen how quickly Harper can get up to speed after missing so much time.
“The biggest thing for me is just trying to see where my timing’s at, see how it feels,” Harper said Saturday. “It takes time to get back in the swing of things. Baserunning felt good the other day, throwing to bags, things like that. But yeah, everything felt good.”
It’s also unclear if Harper will be able to play in all seven games left on Washington’s schedule. With the minor league season over, Harper hasn’t been able to play in any rehab games, so his stamina to play a 9-inning game is also a question mark. If he can’t play in all seven games, it’ll be more difficult for Harper to get the at-bats he needs to get his timing back. The Nationals also have to worry about the four days between the end of the regular season and the start of the NLDS.
Of course, Harper remains a key part of Washington’s playoff hopes. If Harper comes back fully healthy and returns to the form he had earlier in the season, he has a chance to be one of the most impactful players in the postseason. The Nationals already have a formidable middle of the lineup with Daniel Murphy, Ryan Zimmerman, and Anthony Rendon. But the team is excited for what they’ll look like once Harper returns.
“It’s gonna be great. I think he’s itching at getting back on the field more than any of us are,” says ace Matt Scherzer. “Hopefully he can come back and get his timing back. That’s going to be the hardest thing for him. But when you put him back in the lineup, our lineup is scary. We can score runs with the best of them.”
There’s no guarantee that Harper will return from the DL in mid-season perform. But his return will bring the Nationals much closer to full strength. Harper’s expected return on Monday should give Washington both a physical and psychological boost just ahead of the postseason.