Harper tallies hit, feels no pain in latest rehab start
Outfielder reunites with reliever brother as thumb continues to heal
AKRON -- With each cut at the plate and each inning logged in the outfield, Bryce Harper moves closer to making his Major League return. His most recent pit-stop was another positive step on a long-awaited march back to Washington -- and one that also gave him the chance to share a dugout with his older brother.
Harper, playing in his third rehab game since undergoing surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left thumb on April 29, went 1-for-3 with a double, a walk and a run scored for Double-A Harrisburg on Thursday. His brother Bryan, 24, happens to be a left-handed reliever for the Senators who signed with the organization in 2011 as a 30th-round Draft pick. The two played together in high school, and for one year in junior college, but this was their first shared experience at the professional level.
Neither of the Harpers were available for comment, but Harrisburg manager Brian Daubach said their father, Ron, was on hand for the occasion. Bryan Harper did not make it into Thursday's game, but Daubach hinted that he could pitch before the two part ways.
"That's got to be pretty neat to have both your boys playing on the same team in Double-A baseball. Not a lot of families get that opportunity," Daubach said. "They got a lot of left-handed hitters, so it'll be fun for Bryce to play center behind his brother."
Family matters aside, all word on the progression of the younger Harper's injured thumb were positive. He still wore a protective mitt over his hand when on base, but otherwise there were no issues with pain for the young outfielder.
"He said he felt great. I asked him during BP, during the game a couple of times," Daubach said. "Everything feels good."
Bryce Harper showed patience in his first at-bat of the night, working the count to 3-2 while facing Double-A Akron starter Gabriel Arias, but he struck out looking as the setting sun cast a smattering of shadow over Canal Park.
"We played here before, I don't remember [sun] being that bad," Daubach said. "Looked like it was a little tough to see. I asked him, he said he could see fine. Borderline pitch he called a strike."
In the ensuing plate appearance, Harper rapped out a line-drive double to right on a 1-1 pitch over the heart of the plate and would score later in the inning. He followed that up with a popout to the shortstop in the fifth inning and a four-pitch walk in the seventh.
Harper is now 4-for-7 with four RBIs and a three walks in his current rehab stint after playing in a pair of games with Class A Advanced Potomac. He is expected to play in center field and serve his first full nine innings of the assignment on Friday.
According to Matt Williams, the Nationals believe there is a chance Harper can return to the club by Monday to face the Rockies in Washington.
Harper originally injured his thumb in a tilt with the Padres on April 25, when he slid head-first into the bag on a bases-clearing triple. The 21-year-old outfielder put up a .289/.352/.442 line and hit seven extra-base knocks in 22 games with the Nationals before hitting the disabled list.
Injury is no stranger to Harper, who also missed 44 games in 2013 with a left knee injury, and so he has stressed that he'll let his thumb do the talking when approaching the rehab assignment, which may or may not last the full seven games that were alotted.
"I really want to stick to that same schedule, nothing more, nothing less," Harper said on Tuesday. "Really just try and see where my thumb's at. If I need more, then I'm going to take more. If I feel like I can play with less, I'm going to rethink that and play as many as I can to see where my thumb goes."
Alec Shirkey is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.