Prior to Saturday's game against the Rockies, Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper told reporters he believes that he will need six or seven rehab games to get back to 100 percent as he recovers from bursitis in his left knee. He also said he felt Tuesday might be too early for his return and said Wednesday could be the better day for his initial rehab game at high Single-A Potomac.
Manager Davey Johnson had a little bit different take during his pregame news conference, saying it was his decision when a player returns.
"I will have a conversation with him about that," Johnson said. "When a player starts playing, it is really up to me what I think they need, not up to the player."
Johnson said the key is getting Harper back healthy. But it is interesting to hear it is Harper that wants to take his time with this knee injury, hoping to not have to go through all this down time again later because he rushed back too soon.
"I am always trying to do what is best for the player," Johnson said. "But at the same time, it is my job to know when they are ready and when they are not. The most (important) thing I am concerned about is he going to be able to bounce back after playing a nine inning game."
Johnson said the key for these minor league rehab games is to feel good the day after each game. The bigger task for Harper might be to get back to game speed, which can be difficult at Single-A.
"He is probably worried about his timing and everything being letter perfect," Johnson said. "All that changes if you are in Potomac. You may never get your timing there because it is a whole new ball game down there. The guys don't have command as well as they do up here. There is a big variation in how they pitch to guys.
"I am more concerned with how they recover when they come off the DL than I am about what they hit. Since he really has never been on the DL or down rehab I think his concept might be different from mine."
One scenario that could play out is for Harper to play one game and then have a day off, then play another game. Each day off he can monitor the knee and see how it feels and whether or not the swelling returns.
"Is it going to get worse from regular playing?" Johnson asked. "That is what I am concerned about. From the work I have seen him do in the training room, he looks like a pretzel in the stuff they are putting him through. He can't take a breath without (head athletic trainer) Lee Kuntz and his staff being right there. We are going to make sure what he does in anything involved in baseball activities doesn't set him back."
But Johnson said at the end of the news conference and said he will get Harper's input on his status as well before scheduling any rehab games.
"I trust players, too," Johnson said. "They know more about their bodies than the medical staff. But when you come back from injury, are you ever 100 percent? No. The body has a wonderful ability to heal itself. The more you get the blood flowing the more you have to heal."
Potomac is home through June 27. Then, low Single-A Hagerstown is home June 27-July 3. If Harper's rehab goes into next weekend or next week, he could play alongside his brother, Bryan Harper, who is a left-handed reliever for the Suns.