Harper could return tomorrow, Werth likely to miss Atlanta series

BALTIMORE - Tonight will mark the fourth straight game that the Nationals have been without Bryce Harper and the 24th straight game they’ve been without Jayson Werth.

The Nats don’t expect to be down two of their starting outfielders much longer, but there’s still some uncertainty surrounding when both Harper and Werth will be able to return to action.

Manager Davey Johnson said today that Harper has made a little progress as he rehabs the bursitis in his left knee, and Harper did some jogging in the outfield and took batting practice just a bit ago. If he comes out of that workout OK, Johnson said it’s possible that Harper returns to the Nats’ lineup for tomorrow’s series opener in Atlanta.

“I had a good talk with him yesterday,” Johnson said. “He hit yesterday and he’s gonna try and do a little more today. He’s shooting for tomorrow.”

The Nats have said that Harper’s condition likely won’t get too much worse if he plays through it, but they want to give the 20-year-old enough time off so the bursitis calms down and the swelling and fluid in his knee decrease. If they can get it to the point that this won’t be something that will bug Harper all season, that’s obviously the ultimate goal.

Until then, it’s all a matter of how much discomfort Harper can tolerate and when the Nats want to time his return.

“It’s mostly on how the player feels,” Johnson said. “I think it’s lessened enough to where he feels a lot better about it. But until he goes out there and does a few things, he’s not going to know. He says it doesn’t bother him to hit, but we’re not gonna have a DH in Atlanta.”

Every time Harper bangs the left knee, be it diving for a ball in the outfield, sliding on the basepaths, or having a foul ball connect with the ailing joint, he risks the bursitis flaring up and the swelling returning. But if these four days off have done enough to allow the knee to heal, Harper might be able to play without feeling too limited by the injury.

Werth, meanwhile, played three innings at high Single-A Potomac last night in the first game of his latest rehab assignment, going 1-for-1 with a single. He failed to record a putout defensively in right field.

Werth last played for the Nats on May 2, and has gotten close to returning from his right hamstring strain multiple times only to suffer setbacks. The Nats are making sure to take his rehab assignment very carefully this time around.

“He played three innings, went about 60 percent, he said,” Johnson said. “He was gonna play five innings today. He was gonna go three, five, seven and then nine on Sunday, but I think he’s gonna bang Sunday. So hopefully things will go good.”

Johnson initially said that there’s “no possibility” that Werth returns for the Atlanta series, but then he stopped himself.

“Although, Jayson may say after today, ‘I’m ready,’ ” Johnson said. “Just depends how much he puts into today and how he feels. Still worried about a little bit of tightness in there.”

Harper might appear to be a touch ahead of Werth in their efforts to return to the Nats’ lineup, but for both outfielders, there are still a few hurdles to clear before they get back in action.

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