They could now be without Harper for a more extended period.
Harper is out of the Nats' lineup for the fifth straight game with bursitis in his left knee, and because the condition hasn't improved much over that five-day span, manager Davey Johnson said Harper might need to land on the disabled list.
"It's bothering him," Johnson said. "We've got to try to figure out what (to do). Maybe more rest or what we need to do to get him by that."
Harper went through a workout yesterday on the field at Nationals Park, doing some light running in the outfield and then taking batting practice with the team. But Johnson saw Harper limping last night when walking past the team bus, and he knew immediately that Harper wouldn't be in his lineup for today's series opener against the Braves.
Johnson said that Harper returning to the lineup sometime this weekend is "probably out of the question." The question now is whether Harper will need an extended period of rest or whether another course of action might need to be taken.
"We'll see how it is after this weekend and then go from there," Johnson said. "But right now, it's not swollen enough where you would drain it or anything, but it's swollen enough to cause him discomfort. I guess the combination of him hitting yesterday and running in the outfield aggravated it enough to agitate it."
Harper last played on Sunday, meaning if the Nats choose to put him on the DL, they could backdate the stint to Monday. In that case, Harper would then be eligible to return from the DL June 12.
The Nats have suffered in multiple areas with Harper out of the lineup, but his absence is felt the most from an offensive perspective. Harper is hitting .287 with 12 home runs and 23 RBIs in 44 games this season. He's reached base at a .386 clip and is slugging .587, fourth-best in the National League. Overall, the Nats have scored the fifth-fewest runs in the majors this season, and that's with Harper in the lineup for the majority of the games to this point.
"He's a tough guy and he would play if at all possible," Johnson said. "But he's too good a talent to take a chance on further injury, so he's not going out there 'til it's better. That's for dang sure."
Jayson Werth, meanwhile, played six innings last night at high Single-A Potomac, recording two hits in three at-bats. Johnson got a report that Werth played at under 90 percent speed last night, but he could be closing in on a return. Werth almost certainly wouldn't join the Nats in Atlanta and appear in one of the games over the weekend, but having him return to the lineup Tuesday against the Mets seems to be a more realistic goal.
"Usually when you rehab somebody and they finish their last day, you like to give them a day to regroup, because you always put more effort when you're up here," Johnson said. "So Tuesday would probably be the first day that you see him."
With both Werth and Harper sidelined, the Nats are missing two of their more versatile hitters and two strong defensive players. Roger Bernadina and Tyler Moore have struggled offensively while filling in for Werth and Harper, but we've seen a drop-off in other areas, as well.
"Losing Jayson Werth was a big blow because he was in that part of the lineup that kind of kept the other club from throwing left-handers against us," Johnson said. "My bench hasn't done the things that they were doing last year, that they're certainly capable of doing but we just haven't stepped it up. So having both (Werth and Harper) out, it's a big blow.
"But again, I look at it as an opportunity for other guys to express their talent and they need to start doing it. We're not just based on one of two guys. We showed that last year."