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The Nationals were four games over .500 that night in Los Angeles, having struggled some through the season's first month-and-a-half but only one game out of first place in the NL East and still feeling good about their overall standing.
The club's mostly unsuccessful results since then are not entirely attributable to Harper's bursitis, but it's not unfair to to call his absence the biggest factor contributing to a 20-23 record since his collision.
So it's also not unfair to suggest Harper's healthy return tonight, more than anything else, could contribute to the Nationals' potential resurrection over the season's second half.
"He carried us the first couple months," manager Davey Johnson said. "He was the one guy they saw on the lineup, and you have to pitch him tough."
Harper's impact on the Nationals should be significant. His return to the No. 3 spot in the lineup allows Johnson to assemble the kind of batting order he envisioned all along this season: Speed and patience at the top, major run production in the middle and more-than-respectable pop at the bottom.
Johnson still hasn't decided who will bat second ahead of Harper, though he has suggested more than once this week he prefers to put Jayson Werth back in the spot he occupied on Opening Day, leaving rookie Anthony Rendon to hit seventh.
"I'll figure out how to get it back together," the manager said. "But the original, I still like how I had it originally lined up."
Though Rendon has excelled overall since taking over everyday duties at second base, he has found himself in a mini-slump over the last few days, stuck in an 0-for-17 funk before doubling in his final at-bat yesterday in New York. Werth, meanwhile, still seems best-suited to serve as a table-setter (as he did so well during the second half of last season) instead of a run-producer (where he has mostly struggled since joining the Nationals).
Regardless of who hits in front of him, Harper alone should add a much-needed, fearsome presence in the heart of the Nationals' lineup.
"That's a middle-of-the-order hitter," catcher Kurt Suzuki said. "He's a definite impact player. Any time you can add a guy like that to your lineup ... you're in good shape."
Harper essentially replaces the mishmash of left fielders Johnson has been forced to use in his absence: Roger Bernadina, Tyler Moore and Steve Lombardozzi. That's an obvious upgrade offensively, but it's also a major upgrade defensively that should help a club that has committed more errors than anybody in baseball other than the Astros.
And then there's the less-tangible effect Harper should have on the Nationals, that unquantifiable "presence" that teammates and others have noted since he first arrived last year. How eager is the 20-year-old to be returning after five weeks on the DL and four minor-league rehab games?
"Probably going to sleep in my uniform tonight since I am really excited and ready to be back! Little league days!," he tweeted last night.
Harper's veteran teammates may not show their enthusiasm in quite the same manner. But make no mistake: They're thrilled to have him back.
"You take a guy out that's your 2-3-4 hitter, whatever, and you're going to notice it," Adam LaRoche said. "Getting him back, good timing here. We just need to keep him out of trouble, keep him away from anything dangerous, and he'll be alright."