The Washington Times - September 10, 2013, 06:19PM

NEW YORK — Bryce Harper stepped into the batting cage at Citi Field Tuesday evening and began crushing the ball. He sent rockets into right field, shooting them up the seats and making sure any spectators arriving early were alert and on their toes. He sent a few more to center, in his typical line-drive style.

From the dugout railing, Nationals head trainer Lee Kuntz watched with a scrutinizing eye.

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“Right now,” Kuntz said, “it looks good.”

Harper will not be cleared to return to the Nationals’ lineup until Wednesday at the earliest, but he went through a workout on the field with the rest of the team on Tuesday and to the naked eye showed few ill-effects from the inflammation the team is treating in his left hip. 

Kuntz said he did not see anything alarming when Harper was running in the outfield and shagging fly balls, and he seemed to like what he saw when Harper was swinging — which is when the hip has given him the most pain.

As he sent balls screaming off his bat, teammates joked that if the Nationals were basing Harper’s readiness on batting practice alone, he was probably good to go. 

“I’m sure the medication is starting to kick in,” Kuntz said, referring to the oral anti-inflammatory medication that Nationals medical director Wiemi Douoguih prescribed for Harper after tests done on his left hip on Monday showed no structural damage.

“We’ve just got to try to manage it from here and get him through the rest of the year.”

Harper rejoined the Nationals on Tuesday after a pre-game swing on Saturday night brought him to his knees and he spent Sunday and Monday in D.C. to visit with Douoguih.

He appeared to be in good spirits as he laughed and joked with teammates before Tuesday’s game, but he was instructed not to speak to reporters about his injury, saying only that the directive came from general manager Mike Rizzo.

“He’s still got medical restrictions,” manager Davey Johnson said, replacing Harper for the third straight game with Tyler Moore in left field. “They don’t want me to play him for two days (Monday and Tuesday), he’s not going to play for two days. He can run around, take batting practice, stuff like that.

“If he can do that, that would be good for him and his cause to play (Wednesday).”

The Nationals have said they are unsure of the initial cause of the injury to Harper’s left hip, which was not brought to Johnson’s attention until last week. While it could be traced back to Harper’s wall collisions in April and May, Kuntz said it is an injury that comes from overuse — and to that end, the Nationals will likely work with Harper to reduce the number of swings he takes and work he does before games. 

“Over time it just, I guess, bothered him more and more to the point where he finally ‘fessed up and said it bothered him,” Kuntz said. “I don’t have a single incident I can pin it on.

“Inflammation can be caused by a couple of things. It can start with a contusion, it can start with a muscle strain, just overuse. Common overuse injuries, like elbow or knee tendinitis, like someone does too many stairs and the it flares up. Swinging, with him, has been a sore spot. So we’re trying to keep him under the radar on how much he swings and monitor his other activities, treat him daily, get him to take the medication.”

Johnson said he would chat with Harper about pulling back a bit on all of the swinging he does, in hopes that they won’t have to continue to deal with overuse inflammation injuries like this in years to come.

“I’ll have a little conversation with him,” Johnson said. “It’s kind of hard to monitor, because these guys sneak off in these cages when nobody’s around. We’ll try to hold him back.”

“I guess that may be part of his growing process as a player, figuring out how much he can and can’t do,” Kuntz said. “Let’s not forget: he wants to play. He plays hard. So as he gets older he’ll figure out ‘Hey, I don’t need to swing as much today.’”