PHILADELPHIA - With all the positive steps forward Bryce Harper had made these last few weeks as he recovered from knee and calf injuries, it appeared that the 2015 National League MVP would return to the lineup Monday night as the Nats took on the Phillies in their first game of a three-game set at Citizens Bank Park.
But Harper was not in the lineup and was also not listed on the active roster when the club posted lineups three hours before the game.
Nationals manager Dusty Baker confirmed that there was nothing wrong with Harper’s leg, but instead the absence from the lineup was due to the flu.
“He’s doing fair,” Baker said. “He woke up early this morning with some flu-like symptoms. So we’re giving him some fluids and trying to get him better. That just postpones his appearance on the field. We will re-evaluate that tomorrow and make an assessment.”
Harper was not available during pregame clubhouse access, but Baker said the right fielder was at the stadium getting treatment.
“He was here. He was here to see the trainers,” Baker said. “He was here early. He was actually here before I got here. Trying to get well. He’s champing at the bit to play. It’s just another minor setback.”
Baker said when Harper returns, he will be in the starting lineup. The Nationals will ramp up his activity with each start. Ideally, they would like Harper to play six innings in his first game, then seven innings the next night and so on - similar to the way the club builds pitchers’ innings when they are on minor league rehab assignments.
“That’s exactly how I’ll play it because this is, in essence, spring training for him,” Baker said. “I just think it’s a miracle that we are even talking about him. This is what we prayed for. A lot of people had well wishes and great thoughts for Bryce. We just want to thank the people out there that had the well wishes and prayed for Bryce to come back, (to) have a chance to come back.”
How long will it take to get Harper’s swing back to the way he wants it to be?
“It varies per person,” Baker said. “Depends on how many moving parts you have, how simple your swing is. Bryce doesn’t have as many moving parts as Zim (Ryan Zimmerman), but has more than most.”
But from what was observed during Harper’s batting practice displays last week at Nationals Park, it’s not his swing that needs to get back. The swing is there. Baker said it is more about the running, the daily grind of a full game.
“Yeah, running, standing, sliding is big,” Baker said. “Stopping, changing directions. He’s done everything to simulate that, but as we know, game speed is a different speed than practice speed.”
Zimmerman returned to the lineup Monday. It is his first start since September 21 in Atlanta.
Baker said that Daniel Murphy and Anthony Rendon are not in the lineup tonight due to “general soreness.” But he got more specific on Rendon’s condition: “Rendon, his foot is bothering him, he’s got some general soreness, so we got to take care of him too.”
Baker could not recall how Rendon was hurt. Rendon did foul a ball off his foot last week in Atlanta.
“I don’t remember,” he said. “But all I know is I’ve got to tread lightly between giving him time off and giving him ABs.”
Baker had envisioned ramping up all of his starters this week. But due to general soreness and Harper feeling under the weather, he hasn’t been able to get his envisioned opening day lineup back on the field together yet.
“Yeah, I did but my plan changes sometimes,” Baker said. “Always got a plan, just sometimes you are thrown a wrench in the plans and then you have to adjust and readjust your plans. That’s what life is all about, because we all have plans.”