The Washington Times - September 11, 2013, 01:50AM

NEW YORK — If all goes well and the Washington Nationals’ medical personnel gives him the go-ahead, outfielder Bryce Harper will return to the Nationals’ lineup on Wednesday after a four-game absence. 

The Nationals have 18 games remaining in their regular season and as they make their frantic final push for a wild card spot, it’s hard not to think back and wonder what might’ve been this season for Harper had injuries not gotten in his way.

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When Harper began the year, he played like a man possessed. His April was off the charts. He looked primed to be solidifying his place among the league’s elite. The idea of him winning the league’s MVP award didn’t seem so foolish. On April 29, Harper was hitting .356 with a .437 on-base percentage. 

The following night, Harper slammed the left side of his body into the right field scoreboard at Turner Field. Two weeks later, he crashed violently into the right field wall at Dodger Stadium. It’s hard to say with certainty, but it stands to reason Harper has not played at his full capacity since then. 

In the 75 games Harper has appeared in since May 1, he’s hit .248, though his on-base percentage is still strong at .360. He’s slugged .429.

“It’s been a crappy year in that aspect,” Harper said of learning from his injuries. “I think having that first month that I did and hitting the wall and hitting another wall and hitting another wall, it wasn’t a lot of fun. Hopefully I won’t hit as many walls next year and maybe I’ll learn from that but that’s just the way I play. Maybe got to mellow it down a little bit and try to play 162 or 150 games and see where I’m at.

“I’m going to try to play these last 20 games as hard as I can and I’ve got a month off after that. We’ll see where we’re at there.”

Tests done on Harper’s left hip earlier this week revealed no structural damage, only some inflammation from what the Nationals believe to be an “overuse” injury, according to head trainer Lee Kuntz. The tests gave Harper some peace of mind, he said, but he was feeling much better after a few days off to let the anti-inflammatory medication work. 

“I didn’t like feeling the way I did,” Harper said, noting for the first time on Tuesday that it was in Detroit at the end of July when he may have aggravated the hip. “Being able to go back and get a clear mind and hear what (Nationals medical director Wiemi Douoguih) had to say, just trying to clear things out and see what was going on was a sense of relief.”

Harper went through a full on-field workout with the Nationals on Monday, putting on a show in batting practice that seemed hardly out of the ordinary. The Nationals hope it’ll be the last time this season he has to do that to test his own health.

“I was trying to go in there and just see what I could do and see if it was hurting,” Harper said. “Took some swings that were a little ferocious so I could feel how it was going to feel doing it at 100 percent. Of course game-speed is a lot more fierce, especially if I’m going to face (Zach) Wheeler tomorrow. That’s something that is going to be a huge thing for me. See how I feel tomorrow during that game. We go from there.”