ATLANTA — Bryce Harper expressed hope he would show up to Turner Field today, "feel like a million bucks and play." The 20-year-old slugger's health may not quite be up to that lofty level, but he does feel well enough to rejoin the Nationals' lineup for tonight's series finale against the Braves.
Not to be outdone, teammate Jayson Werth also has recovered enough from ankle and hamstring injuries to start this game, giving manager Davey Johnson his full outfield once again.
Johnson waited to make his lineup official until both Harper and Werth had a chance to take batting practice late this afternoon, but each player came out of that warmup session reporting no issues — each launched a couple of home runs — so they were inserted into the starting lineup, Harper hitting third and playing left field, Werth hitting cleanup and playing right field.
The Nationals believe they dodged a bullet with Harper, who winced in pain on a check-swing during the top of the sixth last night. What initially was feared to be an oblique or rib muscle strain instead proved to be only a bruised ribcage, not enough to require any time off.
"I don't see it being my oblique or anything like that," Harper said. "It's more inside my rib area than any oblique. Maybe I shouldn't run into walls."
Harper hurt himself slamming into the fence trying to catch Tim Hudson's home run Tuesday night, leaving himself with a nasty cut and bruise down his left side. He aggravated it on that check-swing last night, but there's no fear of further damage.
"He said he wanted to go, and I told him, 'Well, don't check your swing,'" Johnson said. "He has no broken ribs or anything from the crash into the wall, so we need him in the lineup."
Werth missed the last two games after fouling a ball off his left ankle. He had also been dealing with a cramp in his hamstring, but he said both issues have improved to the point he can play.
"I need to get out there and make sure," he said prior to batting practice. "Ankle's still pretty stiff, but it's playable."