CHICAGO — Bryce Harper could be back in the Nationals’ lineup as soon as Monday, manager Matt Williams said.
Harper, out since April 26 when he tore a ligament in his left thumb, is continuing his rehab assignment tonight, playing seven innings in right field for Class AA Harrisburg at Akron. He’s scheduled to play nine innings in center field Friday, then either take Saturday off or serve as the Senators’ DH, then play nine innings in left field on Sunday.
If all goes well, Harper could then be activated off the disabled list in time for Monday night’s home game against the Rockies.
“He could potentially,” Williams said prior to the Nationals’ series opener against the Cubs. “It depends how everything goes, how he feels. When he comes back, we want him to feel good at the plate, feel good in the field, legs underneath him, full-go. We don’t know how the next three or four days are going to go, but he’s well on his way. He’s had great games so far, but it takes time.”
Harper already played two rehab games at Class A Potomac earlier in the week, going 3-for-4 with a homer, two walks and four RBI. He played three innings in left field on Monday, then five innings in center field on Tuesday before taking Wednesday off to rest and travel to Akron to join Harrisburg’s club.
The Nationals want the 21-year-old to prepare to play all three outfield positions, recognizing he might be one of several regulars who has to bounce around positions to keep nine players fresh and to keep Ryan Zimmerman from having to return to play third base full-time.
Harper admitted some reluctance to that plan on Monday, pointing out that he injured himself last season after shifting from left field to right field, though he insisted he would do whatever the team needed.
“I kind of like it, and I kind of don’t, because I want to get comfortable in one spot,” he said. “I think I got in a little trouble last year playing right field and getting hurt. Just trying to stay in one spot would be great, but with the outfield we have, I don’t think that is going to happen.”
Williams said he’ll talk to talk to Harper at some point before he returns about the various possibilities, but the manager also expressed confidence that his young outfielder can comfortably play all three positions.
“We’ll talk to him about what our plans are moving forward and how we’re going to it, and what the needs may be for the club,” Williams said. “But he’s a great athlete. He can play anywhere. That’s why he’s playing all three, just to get a feel for them. We just don’t know how it’s all going to pan out when everybody gets back. It’s a great problem to have, but there are some decisions to be made on an everyday basis. That’s why he’s playing all three.”