Jun 19, 2014, 5:37 PM EST
Bryce Harper took the field to take batting practice and catch outfield flyballs before the Nationals game against the Braves on Thursday. Both were firsts in his recovery from a torn ligament in his left thumb, and how he feels in the coming days could determine when he begins a minor league rehab assignment.
Harper took batting practice for about 15 minutes Thursday afternoon and put on a show along the way. He hit about a dozen home runs, landing baseballs all around Nationals Park.
Some highlights included back-to-back shots that bounced halfway up the lawn in center field, a couple of opposite field line drives that landed in the visitors bullpen, and a towering bomb to right field that cleared the third upper deck.
Manager Matt Williams was on the field to watch part of Harper’s BP session and came away with rave reviews.
“We almost ran out of baseballs. Honestly – we almost ran out of baseballs,” Williams said. “Whoever gets in there park first today and goes to the outfield will have lots of souvenirs.”
Harper still does not have a return date in mind, but did say his surgically repaired left thumb felt fine after taking swings.
“I feel good. Every single day it’s getting better. Being able to go out and do some outfield stuff, being able to run around a little bit. Catch, throw and hit: that’s my favorite thing to do. To go out there and do that is something I enjoy.”
Harper believes he will need around seven minor league rehab games before he officially rejoins the Nats, and could need as many as nine. He is intent on taking it slow through his recovery, a lesson he learned while rehabbing from left knee bursitis in 2013.
“I’m happy to get [the surgery] done,” he said. “I played through a lot of pain last year and I’m never going to do that again. I think going through the knee surgery and doing that, I wish I would have done it in the middle of the year last year. I think going forward right now my thumb feels great and I have no trouble with it at all.”
Harper believes that being able to continue working on his lower body was beneficial during this particular rehab. He was able to continue running and staying in shape, something he hopes will help once he gets back into games.
Harper is now looking forward to the next step, getting out to a minor league affiliate.
“I really want to see where my thumb is at and how it feels,” he said “If it takes longer than [seven games], then it takes longer. If it takes less, then it takes less. I don’t see myself coming back after five games or four games. I really want to push it and see how I feel after eight or nine games down there. If I feel good before that, then we’ll see where we’re at.”
Williams called Harper’s goal of seven or eight games “standard” for recovery from the surgery he had. The Nationals manager explained how that process could play out specifically.
“We’ll start him like we started everybody else. He could do a three-inning stint one night and then work it like spring training where he would get a couple of at-bats, get three at-bats the next day, take a day off, work and then get to the point where he can play nine innings. And do that a few times, too. So I don’t know what the ideal is. I’m cautious about that. Because if he goes down and hits two homers he’s gonna say ‘I’m ready to go.’ But we got to make sure he’s ready, ready.”
Harper is upbeat about his rehab progress, but called himself the “odd-man out” while the team is winning. He is looking forward to joining the now first place Nationals.
“I feel good. I definitely feel good. I want to go out there and be a gamechanger, work hard and not mess things up.”
Harper has been out since tearing the UCL in his left thumb while sliding into third base on April 25. He holds a .289 average this season with one home run and nine RBI through 22 games.
Ramos close to rehab assigment
Wilson Ramos also hit batting practice on the field Thursday, a day after testing his injured right hamstring with sprints at Nationals Park. Matt Williams believes the catcher could begin a rehab assignment this weekend.
“He’s good,” Williams said. “He’ll continue to do that. His timeframe is certainly shorter than Bryce’s timeframe to get out on an assignment and play some games. He’s eligible to come off the 26th. So we’ll look to get him out for three or four [rehab games] before then probably. That could potentially happen at some point this weekend, toward the first of the week get him out and get him going.”
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