Bryce Harper is not in the Nationals lineup tonight, but Dusty Baker wants to make sure you know nothing's wrong with the star outfielder. Really wants you know.
"No, nothing," the manager said. "No. Don't be alarmed. Nothing. Again, nothing."
The Nationals simply don't want to push Harper too much too fast on the heels of his return from a major left knee and calf injury. After playing a total of nine innings in right field and taking seven plate appearances the previous two nights in Philadelphia, Harper simply is getting a rest tonight.
The 24-year-old slugger returned to action Tuesday after missing 42 games with a significant bone bruise in his knee and a strain of his left calf muscle. He played four innings in the field that night and got three at-bats, then went five innings on Wednesday with four at-bats. Wednesday's game against the Phillies also featured opportunities to run the bases and make several plays in right field that required more than minimal effort.
And how did he come out of all that?
"Felt pretty good," Harper said. "Body feels good. Little sore today playing two in a row."
All involved admit Harper needs more at-bats, needs to get his timing at the plate down after the long layoff. He's 1-for-6 with a walk and two strikeouts. But that's all they believe he needs, having become convinced over the last 48 hours that his leg is not a concern.
"I notice gaits, and I don't see any limps," Baker said. "I don't see him stumbling when he turns and pivots to make a throw. He looked really good. You wouldn't know that he's been out a period of time, other than his timing on missing some balls, missing the bat head. Which is to be expected. But hopefully he can get that here pretty soon."
The plan is for Harper to attempt to play all three remaining games this weekend, building up to a full nine innings. He - and the rest of the team - then have four days off before Game 1 of the National League Division Series against the Cubs takes place Oct. 6 at Nationals Park.
"Biggest thing is just try to get in there and be healthy," Harper said. "I feel good right now. And if I can just keep going and do the things I need to do to be ready for the postseason, we'll get there."
Is there time for Harper to get his swing into peak form, allowing him to be the kind of playoff contributor the Nationals need? Nobody knows the answer to that question yet. They're just thrilled he has the opportunity to do it, given what happened seven weeks ago.
"Like I've said, I think it's a miracle we're even here talking about Bryce being in (the playoffs)," Baker said. "Who knows, I'm hoping he does like 'The Natural.' That's what I'm hoping for."
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