Harper returns to deep Nats lineup

Harper returns to deep Nats lineup
July 1, 2013, 6:00 pm
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Bryce Harper: 'You never want to sit out'

After more than a month of rehab from left knee bursitis, including four games with minor league affiliates, Bryce Harper is finally back starting in left field and hitting third in the Nationals lineup.  

Harper will be wearing padding on his left knee for precautionary reasons, but feels ready to jump right in and give the Nats whatever boost he can as they commence the season’s second half.

“It’s tough to be out, but I’m glad that I’m back and I’m ready to go,” Harper said. “I feel strong enough to be out there and play full-force and I’m ready to get going.”

Manager Davey Johnson said it felt like longer than just five or so weeks since Harper has been out.

“I saw him around two o’clock and I went in there and said ‘is that really you, are you okay, you ready to go?’ He shook my hand and said ‘yea, I’m ready.’ It seemed like I hadn’t seen him in half a year.”

With Harper back, Johnson said he doesn’t plan on bringing him along slowly or asking him to change anything about his approach. Johnson is looking for the same old Harper.

“I think part of it is his bat, but just the energy he brings. He takes a lot of the focus and he’s a competitor,” Johnson said. 

“Just having that 20-year-old energy running around 100 percent. I’m sure he’s probably going to still run into a wall, I’m sure he’s going to dive head first. He did that two times on his first day back. But I don’t want to put a damper on that. That’s who he is, that’s how he plays the game.”

Slotting Harper back into the mix pushes everyone back to where they were originally projected by Johnson back in April. He now has the deep order he thought he’d have this season.

“We haven’t really been set up, I don’t know how many games we’ve had it where I projected that lineup,” Johnson said. “I always put myself in the other dugout when I look at the lineup, when I look at the structure, and I like the way we’re structured.”

Harper is hitting behind Jayson Werth and ahead of Ryan Zimmerman, as he did for much of last season when Werth was in the leadoff role. Johnson could have placed Anthony Rendon who is hitting .310 after 30 games this season in the two-hole, but opted for Werth and the potential power he brings.

“It’s not a slap at Rendon at all, but he other guy’s got a proven track record. He was one of the reasons we were so successful last year, I led him off and hit Harper behind him,” Johnson said.

“Werth has got a little more pop. He has a history of being able to get on base. That’s his M.O., getting on base, taking pitches. When you have three left-handers first through five, the guys that I have separating them, I want them to give the other manager on the other side pause before he brings in his left-hander to go through those three left-handers.”

Whatever the lineup is, having Harper back on the field should help the Nationals. He was leading the team in nearly every offensive category before going out on May 26. He enters Monday’s game hitting .287 with 12 home runs and 23 RBI on the season.

Harper played four minor league rehab games before getting the go-ahead to return, but said he could tell early in the first game at Potomac that he felt much better.

“I think the first day when I slid into second on the double, the bloop double, and ran the bases after that, I felt pretty good,” he said. 

“I really pushed it every single game I played. Made a couple diving plays in the outfield and then also diving at third and diving back into first a couple times. I didn’t feel it at all, and I think that really where I was in my head, I was thinking, ‘I’m ready to go, and let’s get going.’”

Harper does not expect the knee pad to affect his play or mobility, and feels comfortable wearing it.

“Underneath my uniform, I’ve got to wear something on there. I don’t want to just go out there and have nothing on it and slide and bang it. So having some padding on there really helps me out.”

Ramos, Detwiler injury updates

With Harper back playing for the Nationals, Johnson also revealed good news about some of the team's other injured players. 

Catcher Wilson Ramos is set to play with Single-A Potomac on Monday night and is still aiming for a July 4 return. He has been out since May 15 after reinjuring his left hamstring against the Dodgers.

“Willy Ramos came in looking great, felt great, got his helmet and he’s going over to catch seven innings in Potomac. With no problem there he’ll catch nine and he could be back here soon too,” Johnson said.

Johnson said Ramos could play on Wednesday with Syracuse as the Chiefs take on Lehigh Valley. From there they will see if Thursday is realistic, as the original plan has him on track for Saturday.

Johnson also had good news from Ross Detwiler’s Monday bullpen session. Detwiler felt stiffness in his back after his start on June 28, putting his next start in jeopardy. But after throwing on Monday, Detwiler is still on track to pitch Wednesday against the Brewers.

“Detwiler had a good pen today, threw the ball well, so it looks like he’s going to make his start,” Johnson said.

“I told McCatty, he was raving about the pen and so was Rizzo, and I said, ‘Let’s make sure he has a good night’s sleep and didn't get dehydrated and start spasming up.’ I think he’s going to be fine. If there was a problem, it would be Ohlendorf out of the pen, taking his spot.”

Dan Haren is also progressing well from his shoulder injury and is expected to throw a simulated game on Wednesday. When it comes to injuries, everything is looking up for the Nats.

“I feel good about that, we’re getting healthy,” Johnson said. “Things are looking a lot better than they were even in April.”