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Nationals hoping Bryce Harper returns around July 1

- CSNwashington.com - Wednesday, June 4, 2014

They got Wilson Ramos back from a broken bone in his hand. They got Adam LaRoche back from a strained quad muscle. And Tuesday night they got Ryan Zimmerman back from a fractured thumb.

The only member of the Nationals' Opening Day lineup still on the disabled list is Bryce Harper, and team officials are hopeful the star outfielder will be ready to return in less than a month.

"We don't know yet, but I'd like to see him back by the 1st of July," manager Matt Williams said Wednesday. "I think that would be a good target, but we just don't know. It depends on how everything else goes."

Out since he tore a ligament in his left thumb on April 26, Harper has begun some preliminary on-field work the last two days. He's not yet cleared to catch throws or take swings, but he has been scooping up groundballs hit to the outfield and then throwing them back to a coach. It may not sound like much, but it's more activity than the 21-year-old has done since undergoing surgery to repair the torn ligament.

"He's just doing some fielding with his glove and some throwing," Williams said. "Just to get maintain as much motion as he can. To maintain as much baseball activity as he can, without doing too much with it."

It's still unclear when Harper will be cleared for full workouts on the field. Team officials clearly are being cautious with the recovering young slugger.

"It's not time yet," Williams said. "He's itching, he's pacing. But that's one of those things where he's 21 years old. If it doesn't heal right, it can affect him long-term. So we want to make sure he's good before he's able to get back out here."

How long will it take Harper to get back into the lineup once he is cleared for batting practice? Zimmerman, who also suffered a thumb injury, did it in only one week, but the situations aren't exactly comparable.

Zimmerman injured the thumb on his throwing hand, so he was able to start catching balls much sooner than Harper, whose injury is on his glove hand. And once his fracture was deemed healed, he was able to ramp things up in a hurry. The same probably won't be true for Harper.

"He'll be a little bit longer time off, as well," Williams said. "And he won't be able to do as much defensively. So that will take a little bit longer to get him back in shape. He's lifting, he's doing all his leg stuff and running and all of that. But he won't be able to do as much baseball activity as Zim was able to do. So it may take a little bit longer."