NEW YORK — The good news for the Washington Nationals was that an MRI exam of Bryce Harper's left hip revealed no structural damage. The 20-year-old could return to the Nationals' lineup as early as Wednesday, manager Davey Johnson said Monday, and the team was encouraged by the results of his visit with Nationals medical director Wiemi Douoguih.
The tests did, however, reveal some inflammation and Harper was placed on oral anti-inflammatory medication in order to help alleviate that.
When the outfielder may return to the Nationals' lineup will be based on how he feels in the coming days.
"There's no physical damage in there," Johnson said from the dugout at Citi Field on Monday. "He's obviously got some discomfort and it's probably from some inflammation. He'll rest for a couple days and hopefully he'll be good enough to go. ... I don't know what caused it. I don't know what's aggravating it, other than swinging sometimes bothers it."
Harper was taking extra pregame batting practice in the indoor cage at Marlins Park just before game time on Saturday when he aggravated the hip injury that has plagued him on and off for some time. He was scratched immediately from that night's lineup and sent to D.C. on Sunday for further testing.
He was not with the team Monday evening, having been examined in D.C. in the morning. The Nationals expected him to arrive before Tuesday's game, though he was not expected to play.
The question, of course, is if there is additional risk in allowing Harper to finish out the season. The Nationals opened Monday eight games back of the second wild card spot with 20 games remaining in their season — slim playoff hopes that will require them to play exceptionally well and get significant help from those currently ahead of them in the race.
If the Nationals fall any further out of contention they may have no legitimate reason to risk further injury to one of their marquee players — who has not been 100 percent since multiple wall collisions in late April and May while playing the outfield.
But Johnson, at this point, indicated that shutting Harper down for the year was not a consideration.
"All the tests, the MRI and all that, show no structural damage," Johnson said. "There's just irritation and inflammation in there. Take care of that, and he's good to go. He's been playing with it, and at times it hasn't acted up, other times it has. We don't know what caused it, or what's causing it.
"[But if] it's not going to hurt him, I mean, you play with a little discomfort all the time. It's going to be up to him. If he feels like it's OK, he'll play. If not, he won't."
That is also a storyline the Nationals have faced multiple times this season.
Harper missed 31 games with bursitis in his left knee earlier this season, in part the result of a wall collision, but he was not out of the Nationals' lineup for an extended period of time until two weeks after the initial injury occurred, and was not placed on the disabled list until five days after that, on June 1. He stayed on the disabled list until July 1 and required additional treatment in a visit with Dr. James Andrews in mid-June.
Harper insisted he was fine for several days last week in Philadelphia, despite obviously limping at times, and Johnson wants to have his young phenom in the lineup whenever possible.
When pressed on the issue, Harper said, "if I was hurting, I'd come out of the game," and Johnson often says if Harper tells him he's fine to play, he'll play him.
Johnson reiterated on Monday that he would not step in if Harper feels up to playing later this week and continues to insist he is fine.
"He's been playing with it off and on for the last week," Johnson said. "They were treating it last week as a sprain. A sprain, you just give it ultrasound and massage and hopefully you get by it. So this may be even better that we know it's inflammation. They can correct that with medication. So it might be perfect.
"Hopefully this medication will calm it down and let him finish the rest of the year."
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