Good news for the Washington Nationals Monday. Bryce Harper is jogging and playing catch. When could he return? What options are there to return to game shape?
MLB.com’s Jamal Collier thinks so. When asked for a mailbag column Monday, he said:
"My gut, which for the record is often wrong, tells me the same. I’d bet Harper will be on the field when the Nationals take the field for Game 1 of the NLDS at Nationals Park. There’s still enough time for him to progress, and he works too hard and wants to be in these moments so badly that if all goes smoothly, I would guess he will find a way to get healthy in time.More from District on DeckLatest DraftKings Sportsbook Promo Code in Maryland: Bet $5, Win $200 GuaranteedNationals Claim Jeter Downs Off WaiversWashington Nationals Minor League Spotlight: Robert Hassell IIIWashington Nationals Tuesday Q&A3 Free Agents the Nationals Should Gamble On"
The team believes Harper will be ready and jogging is a good sign.
Although there was no structural damage when Harper stumbled over first base at home against the San Francisco Giants, he did hyperextend his left knee while suffering a bone bruise and a calf strain, according to Collier. The recovery from that is better than a ligament tear but still measured in weeks.
Once Harper is ready to start swinging and feeling comfortable in playing, there are few good options to aid in his recovery. The minor league season is over. There are no games left on the farm to rehab in. A short trip to West Palm Beach for extended Spring Training will help some, but the experience of real game action is missing.
The baserunning and outfield part of his game will return quickly when cleared. As we saw with Jayson Werth and Trea Turner when they came off the disabled list is the timing of the bat. Hitting off a tee and batting practice are not the same as live pitching. Sure, there will be simulated games but facing opposing pitchers is the key.
With three weeks left, there is action Harper can get into provided the rest of his recovery goes well. Even if you figure, he returns the last week of the regular season that gives him 20-25 at-bats to get his timing back before the playoffs start.
If Harper is not ready before the National League Divisional Series starts but can go Game 1, he becomes an X-factor. The glove will be fine but competing pitchers will challenge him with hopes of Nats frustration.
The key is not rushing Harper until he is ready. To throw him in the lineup come October not fully healthy can hurt his and Washington’s future. The offense misses his production and ability to change games with one pitch, but this team is deep. They can produce runs.
As with life, it is one day at a time for Harper and hope his rehab continues to progress. You want him back, but not as much as he wants it.