Sunday, June 30, 2013
Harper: "Everything feels good"
By Ben Standig
BOWIE — Those on hand Saturday night at Prince George's Stadium witnessed perhaps the fourth and final game of Bryce Harper's minor league rehab assignment. They also caught the Nationals slugger looking at a third strike, twice. His other two trips to the plate for the Bowie Baysox ended with a walk and an infield popup.
Hardly ideal, obviously, but there were positives to take away for the outfielder, who hasn't played for the Nationals since May 26 due to left knee bursitis. Harper played the full nine innings for the first time during the current four-game rehab stint. He had three at-bats versus an actual major-league starter, Orioles left-hander Wei-Yin Chen, and scored a run. There were also no misadventures on the base paths and in the field.
Fine, let's stop stalling. After two games at Class-A Potomac and two with Harrisburg, everyone wants to know the following:
1) How does Bryce's knee feel?
2) Will he return to the big league club on Monday?
"I feel pretty good right now," said Harper, sporting a mini-version of Jayson Werth's shaggy beard. "I felt pretty good the last couple of days. Nothing really feels like a setback or anything like that. Everything feels good; I'm excited about where I am. Hopefully, we can get going."
Let's talk specifics. Any swelling?
"The knee has felt good. Swelling a little bit, but not anything that we should be scared about," Harper stated. "Just trying to get out there and play. In the first and second game, I was running the bases hard. Even when I came out here, I ran the bases hard. That was really good to see out of myself and I was really excited about that."
Only once on Saturday did a fly ball test Harper in left, but the shot "sailed over my head," Harper said, the batter ending up on second with a double.
On the base paths, Harper reached once with a walk against Chen leading off the fourth. Standing on second with two outs, he scored easily on a double off the left field wall during a four-run inning. Despite the 4-1 lead, Harrisburg fell 6-4.
"I wasn't cautious at all," Harper said when asked about protecting his knee. "I still think it's going to get exposed no matter what. You're just trying to play the game hard and I play the game hard. If I bang, it's going to happen. I'll keep going, get treatment and go from there."
As for the at-bats, Harper went 0-for-2 with a walk against Chen. In the first inning, he struck out looking on 2-2 pitch from the Orioles left-hander, who was making his first rehab assignment. In the fifth, Harper popped up in the infield.
"He's got very good last stuff," Harper said of Chen.
In the eighth, Harper faced the same count against reliever Oliver Drake, who the outfielder recalled from the Arizona Fall League. On the final pitch of the at-bat, Harper didn't take the bat off his shoulder as the right-hander snapped off a nasty splitter. Collectively it marked his first rehab game without a hit.
In four games, Harper is 4-for-11 with a double, a triple, a homer and three walks.
While Harper credited both pitchers, he also hinted at some level of edginess during his first full game, one that dragged in spots.
Harper: "Going out there for the first time playing nine innings, you get a little impatient I guess you could say. I was just trying to get through these innings, trying to really stay intact with everything that you're doing, staying on every single pitch. I tried to do that the best I could, tried to work on everything I could, backing up bases, some other little things."
Oh, let's get back to the other big thing. Are you ready to help the Nationals?
"I really think I can help the team," Harper said. "We're doing a great job right now. A little rough, but we're doing a great job up there...I get excited when I'm laying on my couch watching the game. ... I can't wait to get back up there with the boys and take a run at first place."
So, Monday, are you back?
"I don't know. It just depends on what [Nationals general manager Mike] Rizzo and them say. I'm not going to say anything, I don't know if I'm playing or not. I'll see how I feel tomorrow, see how I feel Monday morning and go from there."