Harper ramps up rehab, runs around warning track

Bryce Harper sightings on the field at Nationals Park these days generate the kind of attention usually reserved in this town for a baby panda at the National Zoo. You never know for sure when they're going to happen, and when they do everybody scrambles for their phones to take photos and video of this rare event.

So it was this afternoon when Harper emerged in the right field corner during Nationals batting practice, alongside Harvey Sharman, the club's director of medical services. The 24-year-old slugger, trying to make it back from his serious left knee and calf injury, then jogged around the warning track in his first public display of running since he was hurt 33 days ago.

Bryce-Harper-running-white.pngHarper ran from foul pole to foul pole and back, then repeated that act two more times. After a light jog during his first back-and-forth, he picked up the pace, running at a rate perhaps 50 percent of his typical sprint.

That's a not-so-insignificant development for Harper, who admittedly was going to need to be able to start running in that sort of fashion sometime soon to have a realistic chance of making it back in time to get ample at-bats in advance of the postseason, which for the Nationals begins in 22 days.

"Running and sliding and dodging is going to be the thing," manager Dusty Baker said earlier this week when discussing the key upcoming hurdles for Harper to cross in his recovery.

Harper still has quite a ways to go before any concrete timetable for his return is possible. He has been taking light swings off a tee and via soft tosses but has not yet been in the cage facing a live pitcher.

The Nationals have 17 games remaining in the regular season, including tonight's series finale against the Braves, then have a four-day break before the National League Division Series begins Oct. 6. With the minor league season over, it may be difficult for the club to find opportunities for Harper to play in game situations as part of his rehab.

Meanwhile, Stephen Drew continues to take batting practice and take grounders on the field, but the infielder still faces long odds to make it back from an abdominal strain in time for the postseason.

"I believe in miracles. It would be a miracle if he has time to come back this year," Baker said. "But he's working towards it. And the way things have gone this year for us, who knows?"

Update: The start of tonight's game has been delayed by rain, the Nats announced. The tarp is now off the field and a 7:35 p.m. start time is anticipated.

Update II: The game began at 7:35 after a 30-minute delay.

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