Harper returns, Drew getting close, Kelley and Glover throw

BALTIMORE - Slowly but surely, the Nationals are getting closer to getting their injured players back on the field.

Bryce Harper returns to the lineup tonight after missing three games with a sore groin. Stephen Drew is hoping to begin a rehab assignment this weekend, putting the shortstop on track to return from his hamstring injury next week. And Shawn Kelley and Koda Glover each threw off the bullpen mound at Camden Yards this afternoon as the relievers get close to a return from the disabled list.

Harper’s return, obviously, is significant even though the Nationals lineup managed to stay productive in his absence over the weekend in Philadelphia. The 24-year-old slugger has not played since suffering the groin injury while making a sliding catch Thursday afternoon against the Diamondbacks.

Harper proclaimed himself ready to play Sunday, but manager Dusty Baker decided not to take any chances, especially on a cold and rainy day at Citizens Bank Park. But all is good for tonight’s series opener against the Orioles, even if Baker will be crossing his fingers nothing goes wrong.

“You don’t have an answer until he gets out there,” the manager said. “Guys always say they feel good. I gotta keep my eyes on him to see if I see anything. If he runs the bases, that’s when I can tell. But we’ll see. I gave him, I thought, ample time. He tested it.”

Baker did decide to give Trea Turner tonight’s game off, not for injury reasons but to give the young shortstop a break after an 0-for-12 series against the Phillies. Turner had played every inning in the Nationals’ last 15 games since returning from his early season hamstring strain.

“Just more of a mental day than anything,” Baker said. “Cause he’s played every day since he got back from being hurt. It looks like his concentration just wasn’t the same. You could tell he was starting to worry a little bit. You hate to take him out for this series, but you’ve got to consider the long run.”

Stephen-Drew-throw-white-sidebar.jpgIdeally, Baker would’ve been able to plug Drew in as his starting shortstop with Turner sitting tonight, but the veteran infielder is not ready yet to return from his hamstring injury sustained in early April. Drew is making, progress, though, and is targeting a rehab assignment with one of the club’s affiliates this weekend.

“We’re hoping he’s ready this weekend,” Baker said. “It’s been a while. We certainly miss him.”

The Nationals’ biggest need at the moment is in their bullpen, but they’ll have to wait until after the next four games before any reinforcements arrive. Glover is eligible now to come off the DL from his hip impingement, but the right-hander threw the first of two planned bullpen sessions this afternoon to help get him ready.

“He had a heck of a workout,” Baker said. “I saw him come in sweating and stuff, hollering something. He must be feeling pretty good.”

Kelley, on the DL with a lower back strain, also threw off the mound today and said all went well. The veteran is expecting to be activated when eligible on Friday.

Left-hander Sammy Solís, still dealing with elbow inflammation, is not close to rejoining the bullpen. Solís has not been on the road with the team and likely won’t be until he’s ready to begin throwing again.

“You know, the nerve takes a lot longer to heal than if he had something with the muscle,” Baker said.

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