Washington Nationals: Bryce Harper on the verge of returning

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(Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
(Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images) /
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Washington Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper could return next week following a good simulated game Tuesday. A reunion made in heaven.

The Washington Nationals received good news Tuesday afternoon when injured slugger Bryce Harper played in a simulated game in Atlanta.

The right fielder faced live pitching, ran the bases and fielded ground balls in the outfield. Another workout follows Wednesday. If all goes well, another round of sim action over the weekend and a possible return early next week in Philadelphia to face the Phillies.

If he comes back for the regular season’s final week, it marks the best possible news for Harper and the Nats. With as many as seven games left before the playoffs, a return to the lineup gives him a chance to get the full timing back on his swing before the National League Divisional Series the following week.

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Because the season ends on October 1 and the NLDS will not start until October 6, there is a gap of five days before the Nats host the NL Central division champs. Aside from the usual intersquad game during the break, Harper will surely take extra batting practice keeping his timing sharp.

Harper’s return is a blessing. Aside from a deep bone bruise and no structural damage to his knee, after tripping over first base, he also strained a calf muscle. The combination of injuries delayed his return past the end of the minor league seasons where he could get time in rehab games.

As long as he stays pain free, Harper should be good to go.

It is important not to focus on what he does in whatever action he sees over the last week. As with Jayson Werth, Michael Taylor and Trea Turner, it takes a few days to get the bat speed and reading of pitches correct. Making those adjustments before the playoffs is crucial to Washington’s chances to advance past the NLDS.

Although the team is strong enough to win without Harper, the offense reaches a whole new level with him in it. With a slash line of .326/.419/.614, his 29 homers and 87 RBI anchored a lineup producing a team record 768 runs this year. Whatever he can add to those regular season numbers is gravy.

You wonder if, upon his return, Harper bats second in the lineup to grab more at-bats. But, he should hit third behind Turner and probably Werth in the NLDS. If you hit him behind Turner, you take away Turner’s ability to steal bases as it opens the door for an intentional walk.

Next: Stras back in Cy conversation

The question of when, and not if, Harper returns is huge. With him in right field, an already good Nats team gets more dangerous when it counts most.

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