Williams expects Harper to return Monday or sometime next week, discusses plan

Bryce Harper's rehab has progressed to the point that he played nine innings in center field Friday for Double-A Harrisburg.

With the outfielder's rehab from torn ligaments in his left thumb nearing completion, manager Matt Williams is optimistic that barring a setback this weekend, Harper could be back with the Nationals on Monday, or soon after.

"Yeah, I feel good about it. We'll have to see how he comes out of it, though," Williams said before the first game of Saturday's doubleheader at Wrigley Field. "I think he's progressing really well. I would say I feel good at some point this coming week. Monday is a possibility."

harper-in-dugout-hoodie-sidebar.pngAs for the rest of Harper's rehab, he came out of Friday's nine-inning outing well and could serve as Harrisburg's designated hitter today. A full game was a big step for Harper since he hasn't played nine innings or more since April 24.

"So he'll report, see how he feels. Again, nine innings his first time out last night. We have to look at how he feels today, but he can DH tonight," Williams said. "... Three, five, seven, nine (innings) - he's progressing. We certainly want him back-to-back nines, whether it's mixing a day off in there or not. One nine-inning stint is not enough. So we'd have to go (nine innings) again at least. So that could be today, it could be tomorrow."

Also on Saturday, Williams was asked about his plan for the lineup when Harper returns. The Nats manager wouldn't divulge details, but acknowledged that he has a good idea of what he wants to do.

"I'm not going to share it just yet. But yeah, I do. I have a plan," Williams said.

Digging a little deeper, Williams was asked whether that plan will require some of the team's established veterans to not have egos about having less playing time or diminished roles.

"Without getting into too much detail, not as much as you might think," Williams said. "The plan going forward is to win games and to put guys in position to do that. So again, without giving up all the secret stuff, it wouldn't be as much as you might think."

Ryan Zimmerman will be a key figure in whatever that plan may be because of his versatility. Zimmerman has been playing left field since his return from the disabled list. He also is a natural third baseman and has gotten some work at first.

Williams indicated that the team will capitalize on Zimmerman's ability to play multiple positions rather than have him entrenched at one spot. Zimmerman hasn't played third base since April 12, before he went on the DL. He has played left in 23 of 24 games since coming back and started at first on June 15.

"He'll play all over," Williams said. "He'll play some first, he'll play some left, he'll play third certainly. That's the plan going forward. It's going to be a daily thing. But the plan going forward is he'll see time at all three. ... He's good with it. Wherever he's at, he's good. He'll go play."

As for Harper, the Nats will be looking to keep him healthy since has has spent time on the DL in two straight seasons.

Williams said the team would like Harper to slide head-first less often in order to preserve the health of his thumb and avoid further injury,

"We're going to continue to encourage him to slide feet-first," Williams said. "He wears a protective guard certainly that would, if he got in a situation where he got the thumb on the bag, it would stop it. But it's hard to take that away from him because that's the way he plays.

"So we would encourage to slide feet-first when at all possible. There's going to be times when he's going to want to try to get around a guy and (head-first is) the way he's going to do it. But we've taken the precautions to give him the guard when he gets on base, so there's not an issue with that. Just hit standup triples and we don't have to worry about it."

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