Nats not worried about Harper's thumb, expect Murphy for NLDS

The Nationals don't yet have test results on Bryce Harper's left thumb, but the sense around the club remains that the right fielder's injury isn't serious.

Harper is out of the lineup for tonight's series opener against the Diamondbacks, and the Nationals may take the precautionary route and give him more time to heal before putting him back on the field, given the fact they've already clinched the National League East title.

The 23-year-old admitted Sunday he initially was worried he tore the ligament in his thumb after jamming it into third base in Pittsburgh, a similar play that led to a tear and surgery in 2014. But Harper realized the pain was coming from a different part of the thumb, and an examination by head athletic trainer Paul Lessard eased his fears, as well.

"We'll go day-by-day right now," Harper said after Sunday's game. "It's not as bad as it was last time, so that's good news. Like I said, first initial thought in my head was my UCL was gone and I'll have to go back through surgery and things like that. Right now, I don't feel that feeling. More like a jam, like in basketball kind of thing."

Harper was forced to make a late, awkward slide into third base after the Pirates' Jung Ho Kang faked a tag despite the throw from right field sailing way to his left. The Nationals were upset at Kang for the move, and in the bottom of the inning rookie A.J. Cole's first pitch to the Pittsburgh cleanup hitter sailed behind his head, earning Cole an immediate ejection and prompting players from both dugouts and bullpens to spill onto the field for a brief skirmish.

Cole could face punishment from Major League Baseball, which typically suspends a pitcher for roughly five games if it was determined he intentionally threw at an opposing batter's head.

Murphy-Throws-White-Sidebar.jpgDaniel Murphy, meanwhile, remains out of the Nationals lineup for the eighth straight game while continuing to recover from a strained muscle in his left buttocks. The veteran second baseman and NL MVP candidate has been able to take swings and play catch while out, but the club won't let him run yet.

The Nationals firmly believe Murphy will be ready to play in time for Game 1 of the National League Division Series against the Dodgers in 11 days.

"Yeah, I expect him to be," manager Dusty Baker said. "That's why, like I said, we shut him down. He's working tirelessly with our fitness guys. He'll probably be in better shape when he comes back than he was when he left. Because that's all he's doing, working out. They're rubbing him, massaging him, stretching him, trying to do everything they can, STEM machine, all kinds of stuff on him."

How many at-bats, though, would Murphy need to get himself back into form before the playoffs?

"His swing is pretty simple," Baker said. "He's been hitting (the last few days). It doesn't hurt him to hit. And he's been throwing. How many at-bats he needs, that's a toss-up between at-bats and him getting extra days to get healthy and get well. Which ones are more important: His legs to get healthy, or his at-bats, and are we risking that leg by pushing him too early? Murph knows himself. Murph has a strong mind. I'm just glad that we shut Murph down when we did, and we had the luxury of shutting him down when we did. Because if he had played any longer, he'd have been out for probably the entire postseason."

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