Posted on September 19, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine

Washington Nationals Bryce Harper

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With less than two weeks left in the regular season, the Washington Nationals remain optimistic that outfielder Bryce Harper will be able to return in time for the postseason. There is still no timetable for Harper’s return. But in recent days the former MVP has taken concrete steps toward returning to the field, showing evidence of Washington’s optimism that he’ll be back for the playoffs.

Harper was able to take batting practice on Sunday. He followed that up on Tuesday by participating in a simulated game. As part of the simulated game, Harper took at-bats against live pitching, ran the bases, and took ground balls in right field. His participation doesn’t signal that his return is imminent, but it’s a step in the right direction. With the minor league season over, playing in simulated games is the best Harper can do to prepare for a return to the field.

The Nationals have been forced to survive more than a month without Harper. He hasn’t played since August 12 when he suffered a hyperextended knee after slipping on first base. The Nationals still have no timeline for his return. The fact that he played in a simulated game Tuesday means he’s capable of doing most baseball activities and is nearing a return.

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Harper will likely need more live at-bats before he is activated from the DL. Those at-bats could come in more simulated games or instructional league games against Washington’s top minor leaguers. With the Nationals already clinching the NL East, it’ll be easier for the team to ease him back slowly in major league games.

Of course, both Harper and the Nationals have a target date in mind of October 6. That’s the day the Nationals will begin the NLDS. The goal is for Harper to be playing at full speed by then.

“I hope so. That’s definitely in my head,” Harper said Sunday about being ready for the start of the postseason. “That’s what I want to do. That’s where I want to be. But it takes time. (I’m) just trying to do the best I can to get out here and do the things I can to get back and get ready, and see where it’s at.”

With Harper out, Jayson Werth has started to see more time in right field. However, he’s struggled to get going offensively after missing more than two months with a foot injury. The Nationals have also been without Brian Goodwin for more than a month because of a strained groin. Goodwin has had a productive season while plugging holes in Washington’s injury-plagued outfield. He continues to work his way back but is no more of a guarantee to return before the playoffs than Harper. If healthy, Goodwin could also play an imporant role in Washington’s postseason run.

Of course, as long as Werth continues to struggle and both Harper and Goodwin remain on the DL, there will be questions about Washington’s outfield heading into the postseason. Both Harper and Goodwin are making progress toward a return. But time is starting to run out for both players to prove that they’re healthy and shake off any rust before the start of the playoffs.

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