SAN DIEGO — Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper returned to the starting lineup on Thursday for the first time since his violent collision with the right field wall at Dodger Stadium on Monday night.
Harper, who pinch hit in the ninth inning on Wednesday, said he was feeling “terrible” after the game, but manager Davey Johnson was optimistic he could return to the lineup on Thursday.
And he did, slotting back into his No. 3 spot in the lineup as the Nationals open a four-game set with the San Diego Padres.
Harper is still dealing with some soreness on the left side of his abdomen, and he said he was not feeling very much improved over how he felt Wednesday night. He was hopeful that wouldn’t hinder him in the game, though.
“I don’t think it’s going to be any time soon that I don’t feel it,” Harper said Wednesday. “Just go out there and do what I can.
“I hope it doesn’t really drag on or linger. Just going to try to go do what I can do and see how I feel. If I’m sore or anything I’m not going to play and if I feel good, then I’ll play.”
Second baseman Danny Espinosa, who has been scuffling offensively with just one hit since Saturday, was out of the lineup. Steve Lombardozzi got the start at second base in his place.
Johnson had a long talk with Espinosa in his office in the visitors’ clubhouse at Petco Park on Thursday, and he characterized the chat as a good one.
“Obviously, he’s not where he wants to be,” Johnson said. “I feel that he’s got a great chance to get there. A lot of times the approach you can take home plate can be mental. He’s very driven, like a lot of the guys here on this ball club. I think he’s trying to do too much. When you start trying to do too much, you can get in some bad habits. Mechanics can go a little bad.
“It was a good conversation. Hopefully it will lead to more conversations. I know a little about hitting. I know how hard it was. I know how we have a tendency to try more things than we should be trying. I think in his case, his will to really do well and really help this team, he’s trying to do too much. Hopefully, after relaxing and working on a few things, he’ll be fine.”
Johnson said he came away feeling that Espinosa was in a fine mental state, and he stressed that Espinosa’s talent is much greater than his results have shown.
“He’s chansing balls out of the strike zone, he’s missing balls that he should have drove,” Johnson said. “It all runs together. By and large, he’s been getting himself out more than they’ve been getting him out. That’s what you have to correct. But he’s got a ton of ability. He’ll get it. Sometimes, it takes a little while.”
They’ll be playing behind Stephen Strasburg, who is looking to rebound from a meltdown that ended his last start and will be making his first major league start in his hometown.
Last year, when Strasburg missed starting in San Diego by two days because of the way the rotation lined up, he spoke excitdely of the time he’d get the opportunity in the future. He has pitched at Petco Park twice before, while he was in college at San Diego State University, but never as a professional.
“I remember watching Trevor Hoffman warm up from right there,” Strasburg said in 2012, glancing out toward the left-field stands. “You can see into the bullpen from there. Watching Trevor, [Jake] Peavey, [Scott] Linebrink was there. It was cool. It’s a good area to watch the game.”
Here are the full lineups:
Denard Span CF
Steve Lombardozzi 2B
Bryce Harper LF
Ryan Zimmerman 3B
Adam LaRoche 1B
Ian Desmond SS
Roger Bernadina RF
Kurt Suzuki C
Stephen Strasburg P
Everth Cabrera SS
Will Venable RF
Chase Headley 3B
Yonder Alonso 1B
Chris Denorfia LF
Jedd Gyorko 2B
Alexi Amarista CF
Nick Hundley C
Edinson Volquez P