WOODBRIDGE, Va. - Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper played three innings in left field for the high Single-A Potomac Nationals in his first minor league rehab game as he recovers from a left thumb ligament injury.
Wearing jersey No. 32, Harper went 1-for-1 with a single, a walk and a run scored. He came home on a three-run shot by catcher Wilson Ramos in a four-run third inning that gave the P-Nats a 4-1 lead over the Salem Red Sox.
Ramos finished 3-for-4 with a single, double and three-run homer. He appeared to run without any issues and was careful to peel off near second base during a double play groundout.
Potomac won 5-2.
Harper said it was good to get back on the field.
“Yeah, it’s exciting,” Harper said. “I love this game. I love coming out here and playing and being around the minor league guys. It’s a lot of fun.”
“I know a lot of these guys and I’ve played with a lot of them. It’s fun to get back out here and just get competitive and try and win a ballgame.”
Testing his thumb, Harper said he did feel the hit in the third as the ball ricocheted off of his bat.
“I felt fine. I got that knock to left, felt a little vibration, but not much,” Harper said. “I think that’s just typical, feeling the vibration on my bat. I felt good up there. Faced a pretty good guy. That was nice to see that.”
Harper made one catch in left field for the second out in the second inning. What is he looking to work on during his rehab stint?
“I think everything,” Harper said. “Maybe not too much sliding because I have the mitt on. But playing left field and being in a glove all game and being in that motion of being spread apart from my fingers and whatnot. That is just something I have to try to feel and deal with. If it gets swollen or something like that, then take it easy even more. Just play it by ear every single day and see where I am at every single night.”
Harper said the conditions weren’t ideal, with the sun still shining high in the sky at game time.
“It is a little bit rough with that sun out there, blinding down on you from left-center” Harper said. “But I felt fine, I felt good. I thought I had two pretty good AB’s. I just want to see pitches. If I can work deep in counts and see more pitches, that’s huge for me.
“If I strike out or walk that’s fine, too. I just want to see a lot of pitches. Of course, I went up hacking my first pitch, try to just get that out of the way because I was so excited to hit again. Just that competitive nature going out there. My swing felt fine.”
He said he did not feel anxious getting back to a real game or feel like he had to do everything the first night.
“Really I didn’t get antsy at all,” Harper said. “I really haven’t got antsy one bit. I am just trying to stay as calm as a I can and really try to take it all in and see how my thumb reacts to everything and just see where I am at.”
Harper said he is not using a special glove for defense, but does wear the Ryan Zimmerman-inspired mitt for baserunning to protect the thumb. He has not felt any pain yet playing with the thumb in game after the surgery.
“No, it’s going to be the way it is,” Harper said. “I have to play with it or play through it. Hopefully, I don’t feel too much pain and I haven’t tonight and I haven’t in the past month and a half I have been doing things or how long I have been doing it. It feels fine. Hopefully, it stays that way and I can keep progressing and doing things everyday that get me back up to where I need to be.”
He did joke about wearing the “Zimmermitt” when running the bases.
“Yeah, me and Ryan we are going to go bake,” he said of the apparatus, which looks like an oven mitt.
Manager Matt Williams told reporters in Milwaukee that Harper would play five innings on Tuesday for Potomac and then have Wednesday off. He said Harper would then play three games in a row depending on how he feels. He could be given a day off if he has any soreness in his legs, thumb or other issues. Williams said Harper would play all three outfield positions during his rehab assignment.
Harper understands that the Nats want him to play different spots, but he would prefer to concentrate on one position for right now.
“I kind of like it and I kinda don’t because I want to get comfortable in one spot,” Harper said. “I think I got in a little trouble last year playing right field and getting hurt. Just trying to stay in one spot would be great, but with the outfield we have I don’t think that is going to happen.”
Ramos hit a three-run shot, a double, a single and grounded into a 6-4-3 double play. Harper was asked what he told Ramos when he met him at home plate following the home run early in the game.
“I just told him, ‘You’re terrible,’ ” Harper smiled. “It’s good to see him doing well. We need Willy up there. He’s one of the best hitting catchers in the league when he is hot. It’s good to see him going.”
Harper confirmed he would play center field for five innings in Tuesday’s game, barring any unforeseen swelling or pain in the thumb overnight.