Bryce Harper has taken a few more small but important steps in his return from a significant knee and calf injury, offering a more encouraging outlook for his chances to return to the Nationals in time for the postseason.
Harper has begun light hitting and running drills, according to manager Dusty Baker, adding to his earlier throwing sessions as his first attempts at baseball activities since he injured himself Aug. 12 trying to beat out a groundball to first base.
“He’s hit some off the tee, and some soft-toss and stuff,” Baker said this afternoon. “Like I said, that’s part of baseball activities. He threw yesterday. He’s been running lightly. So he’s in the process.”
Harper’s latest workouts appear to have taken place out of public view after he twice played catch in the outfield last week (once in Miami, once at Nationals Park).
There remain much more significant hurdles for the 24-year-old slugger to cross. Most notably, he’ll need to show he can run, cut and slide at full speed without risking any more damage to his left knee or calf. Both were injured significantly when he slipped on a wet base during that Aug. 12 game against the Giants and went crashing to the ground, with a bone bruise in his knee and a muscle strain in his calf.
Harper hadn’t been able to do much of any physical activity a full two weeks after suffering the injury, but he has begun to make progress in the last week.
The question now is whether he’ll have enough time not only to get his body 100 percent healthy again, but also to get his game into midseason form in time for October. The Nationals’ first postseason game is slated for Oct. 6, giving Harper 23 days to make it back.
The fact the Nationals, as a division champion instead of a wild card, won’t start the postseason until five days after their regular season finale, could prove important.
“If anything, I think that five-day layoff will probably help him as much as anybody here, whoever’s been hurt,” Baker said. “We’ll see.”
The Nationals got more encouraging injury news today when Jayson Werth was able to return to the lineup after missing five games with a sore left shoulder.
Werth, who only recently returned from a three-month stint on the disabled list with a bone bruise and fracture in his left foot, had been in an 0-for-20 slump before the shoulder ailment forced him to the bench last week. He can now attempt to get his swing back over the season’s final 17 games.
“Very relieved,” Baker said of the news of Werth’s return. “Cause it’s going to take some time to get his timing and stuff. And hopefully nothing else goes wrong and we start getting some of these guys back in time to get them back to top competitive form and shape.”
Daniel Murphy, meanwhile, is out of tonight’s lineup due to a stiff neck, according to Baker. Murphy has been on a six-game hitting streak, going 10-for-23 with two homers and two doubles, but Baker said he detected some differences in the second baseman’s swing during Tuesday night’s game.
The Nationals also have been encouraged by Stephen Drew’s surprising progress of late. The veteran infielder has out since July 26 with an abdominal strain, and he had suggested in recent weeks he likely wouldn’t be able to return this season. But Drew today was able to taking batting practice on the field with teammates, a positive sign.