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Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth could be swapped for each other on the DL.
Harper, whose continues to be hobbled by a swollen left knee despite taking the last four days off, is likely to miss this entire series and could wind up being placed on the disabled list. Werth, meanwhile, remains on rehab assignment at Class A Potomac, and Tuesday is the earliest he could return, according to manager Davey Johnson.
The Harper news is most disconcerting, with the club finally acknowledging the 20-year-old star may need to take a prolonged break to let his knee heal some 18 days after he initially injured it crashing into the wall at Dodger Stadium.
"He's a tough guy, and he would play if at all possible," Johnson said. "But he's too good a talent to take a chance on further injury. So he's not going out there til it's better, that's for dang sure."
Though he missed the Nationals' entire four-game series with the Orioles, Harper did take batting practice and did some running before Thursday's game at Camden Yards. By the time the team's charter flight landed in Atlanta early Friday morning, he was noticeably hobbling, according to Johnson.
"He walked in front of our bus getting off the airplane last night limping, so I knew right then and there that he was out today," Johnson said. "It's bothering him. We've got to try to figure out — maybe more rest — what we need to do to get him by that."
It doesn't appear the Nationals will put Harper on the DL this weekend, wanting to at least give him a couple of days to perhaps heal to the point he can return, even though they'd have to play with a 24-man roster.
But with Werth possibly on track to return from his hamstring strain Tuesday for the start of the Nationals' homestand against the Mets and Twins, the Nationals will need to clear a roster spot. Harper could land on the DL at that point, the move backdated to the last day he played (May 26).
Werth is scheduled to play seven innings tonight for Potomac after playing three innings on Wednesday and six innings on Thursday. He's not running out of the batter's box at 100 percent yet, though, and until he does, he won't be activated.
Thus, a potential Werth sighting in Atlanta this weekend remains remote at best.
"No, I don't think so," Johnson said. "Usually when you rehab somebody and they finish their last day, you like to give them a day to regroup, because you always put more effort when you're up here. So Tuesday would probably be the first day that you see him."
The Nationals are 2-10 this season when Harper isn't in the starting lineup, and they've obviously missed Werth's presence in the lineup, in the field and in the clubhouse.
"Having both of them out, it's a big blow," Johnson said. "But again, I look at it as an opportunity for other guys to express their talent, and they need to start doing it. We're not just based on one or two guys. We showed that last year."