Harper crushes homers in batting practice, Williams details rehab progression

Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper completed batting practice Thursday prior to the team’s game against the Braves. Harper came out of it with a positive update on his thumb. He has been on the disabled list since April 26 with a left thumb sprain.

“I feel good,” Harper said. “But still trying to see where my swing’s at and trying to get in shape in the outfield. And just trying to feel how I go about everything every single day and try to get a strong as I can.”

Manager Matt Williams said Harper and catcher Wilson Ramos (right hamstring strain, D.L. June 11) were cranking home runs during early batting practice.

“Well, we almost ran out of baseballs,” Williams said. “Honestly, we almost ran out of baseballs. Between he and Wilson (Ramos), whoever gets in the park first today and goes to the outfield will have lots of souvenirs. He looked fine. He did some early outfield work today. And today was his first day of hitting on the field so he was excited about that. I think we’ll do it again tomorrow and see where he’s at from there. But he looked good.”

Harper also went through extensive outfield drills and believed the thumb might swell a bit tonight, but that is normal after a grueling workout.

“I got a little bit of adrenalin going through me right now so I don’t know if I’ll feel that until later on,” Harper said. “Of course, I think it’s probably going to be a little swollen just to have that impact on it doing the things we did in the outfield today. Definitely I think it’s going to be a little swollen. But I don’t know until later in the day.”

Harper did not have an exact time frame yet as to when he would return to the lineup.

“I really don’t know,” Harper said. “I just try to take it day by day and really try to get in the cage and see how I feel, get on the field and see how I feel and go from there.”

Harper said he has learned during this time off and the experience he gained from off season knee surgery that if an injury occurs in the future he won’t try to just play through it.

“I am happy to get it done,” Harper said of the thumb surgery. “I played through a lot of pain last year. I am never going to do that again. Going through the knee surgery and doing that I wish I had done that in the middle of the year. I think going forward right now my thumb feels great. I have no trouble with it at all.”

Williams has not confirmed the schedule yet for Harper’s rehab assignment.

“I don’t know for sure,” Williams said. “Probably at some point when we’re on the road we’ll look at that. But he’s gotta get back to it. He hasn’t swung a lot. And so he’s special. He can go out there and take batting practice and hit the ball over the fence. But he’s got to get in shape to do that rehab assignment, too, so it’ll take some time.”

Harper believes the rehab won’t be just one or two games. He envisions a longer test.

“Rehab games, probably seven or eight,” Harper said. “I really want to see where my thumb’s at and how it feels. I really want to take that by ear every single day. If it takes longer than that, it takes longer, if it takes less, it takes less. But I don’t see myself coming back after five or four games. I really want to push it and see how I feel after eight or nine games down there. If I feel good before then we’ll see where I am at.”

Williams said Harper will begin rehab games with just a couple of innings and a few at-bats in their standard progression they use for any rehabilitating player.

“I don’t know for sure,” Williams said. “We’re going to start him slow. We’ll start him like we started everybody else. He could do a three-inning stint one night and then work it like spring training where he would get a couple of at-bats, get three at-bats the next day, take a day off, work and then get to the point where he can play nine innings. And do that a few times, too. So I don’t know what the ideal is. I’m cautious about that. Because if he goes down and hits two homers he’s gonna say ‘I’m ready to go.’ But we got to make sure he’s ready, ready.”

Williams also repeated some of the positional possibilities for the team when Harper is back in the lineup.

“Well, I think it’s gonna be fluid,” Williams said. “There’s days where Zim can play left, there’s days where Bryce can play center, certainly Bryce can play right. Ryan can play third base and he can play first base. So it’s gonna be a little fluid in that regard and it gives us opportunities potentially to give guys some days off, too, which we haven’t had the ability to do. So we remember the first couple of months of the season we didn’t have a lot of guys. And then since they’ve come back they’ve played a lot so if we get back to full strength then we have opportunities to rest guys, too.”

Harper adjusted a previous statement in which he talked about how much he prefers playing center field. He said today he doesn’t care which position he plays on the outfield, just as long as he is on the field.

“It doesn’t really matter to me,” Harper said. “I just want to play, I just want to be in the lineup and hopefully I can come back, help the team win and see where I am at when I come back.”

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