Is Harper’s thumb preventing him from moving to his next assignment?

Single-A Hagerstown Suns outfielder and No. 1 prospect Bryce Harper returned to the lineup Wednesday, after missing three games due to a sore thumb injury. Overall, Harper has sat out seven games and the Home Run Derby at the All-Star Game because of the thumb problem.

Last week, Nationals Director of Player Development Doug Harris reported that Harper is doing well in his recovery from the setback.

“It is not really a thumb thing,” Harris said. “It is the fatty tissue in between his index finger and thumb. (This injury) is a common thing with hitters. It gets hot a little bit there. He will be fine. Actually, over the break it calmed down quite a bit.”

But there is obvious concern in the organization about the injury and its potential to linger for the entire season.

Harper went 0-for-4 with a walk, strikeout and stolen base Wednesday and has registered just five base hits since the thumb started to bother him when it was injured June 12.

That is only five hits in his last 26 at-bats. Harper has seen his batting average drop from .332 to .317 in the past seven games.

Overall, Harper has struggled the past 10 games, batting just .189 with only two extra base hits. In his previous 58 games, he registered 28 exta base hits with 14 home runs.

It makes sense to not rush Harper to high Single-A Potomac or Double-A Harrisburg as this time when his thumb may still be sore. There is no reason to subject him to higher level talent when he is not 100 percent healthy. It is better to make sure Harper’s thumb is not bothersome for a few games or weeks before moving him on.

Let us assume the thumb is not an issue, is Harper going to be promoted soon? Harris said not yet.

“As far as his status going forward, (Harper) is a Hagerstown Sun until he is not a Hagerstown Sun,” Harris said.

It is clear that the Nationals feel Harper’s set up in Hagerstown is perfect. He is playing on a talented ball club, surrounded by an excellent coaching staff and the media is not all over him in a small town environment. Harper is able to learn and gain valuable every day playing experience at his pace.

The Nationals have made sure they will not let other prospects (Manny Machado’s promotion) or excited fans dictate if, and when, Harper advances. But the idea of promotion will be simpler once Harper shows his thumb to be injury-free, and that will take at least a week of games to confirm.

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