Harper after playing nine innings: "I really think I could help the team" (plus audio)

BOWIE, Md. - Left fielder Bryce Harper is anxious. That is the best sign of all that the knee is not bothering him and he is ready to get back with his teammates.

On Saturday, he played nine innings for Double-A Harrisburg in what is likely his final rehab game before returning to the Nationals. Harper has been recovering from left knee bursitis since late May.

On Saturday night, he faced off against Orioles left-hander Wei-Yin Chen, also on a rehab assignment.

Harper went 0-for-3 with a walk, a run and a pair of strikeouts.

But this game really was not about production, even though he had his moments in the past week of rehab games split between high Single-A Potomac and Harrisburg. It was more about ramping up each contest to test the knee in every facet of the game, offensively and defensively.

And if Harper's anxiousness to return is any indication that he is ready and his knee is not bothering him, then he looks good for a Monday start at home.

"Going out there for the first time and playing nine innings, you get a little impatient I guess you could say," Harper said. "I was just trying to get through those innings and trying to stay intact with everything you are doing, staying with every single pitch. I tried to do that the best that I could, trying to work on everything that I could, backing up bases, just doing some of the little things."

Harper feels that the treatment and rehab the team's training staff has administered on his left knee is getting the job done, and he will stick to that regimen the rest of the season.

"I will ice it every day, just keep up on it," Harper said. "I don't want to not and it blows up on me or something. I will keep treatment on it all year, keep icing it. I'll keep doing what I am doing because it is working. I will keep doing that on my knee and see where we are at from there."

Harper slid into bases all week, went after long fly balls and was aggressive in every game. He said he never felt tentative on his knee, which he injured slamming into outfield walls in Atlanta and Los Angeles.

"I wasn't cautious at all," Harper said." I really wanted to do that and really try to slide and put it to the max and I could and see how it was and see how it would deal with that. It felt good diving. I slid into third base a couple of times, slid into second a couple of times. That diving play today, it felt fine. It was good to have that feeling and not be scared to slide or anything like that."

With the Nationals starting and stopping offensively the last few weeks, several had hoped the return of Harper would ignite the offense. Harper agrees.

"I really think I could help the team," he said. "I think we are going a great job right now. It is a little rough, but we are doing a great job up there.

"(Ian) Desmond is swinging it well still. I get excited when I am sitting on my couch watching the game and we are winning the ballgame and Desi hits a homer. I am going nuts. I can't wait to get back up there with the boys and get going and hopefully take a run at first place."

In the end, Harper was not going to guarantee that he would play Monday at home against Milwaukee. He wanted to leave up to general manager Mike Rizzo and see how his knee reacts Sunday and early Monday.

"I don't know," Harper said. "It just depends on what Rizzo and them say. I am not going to say anything. I don't know if I am playing or not. See how I feel tomorrow and see how I feel Monday morning and go from there."

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