Bryce Harper takes BP, moves a step closer to return from thumb surgery

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Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper took batting practice on Thursday for the first time since undergoing surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left thumb on May 4.

According to Washington manager Matt Williams, Harper could begin a rehab assignment in the minor leagues while the team is on the road next week in Milwaukee and Chicago. Harper said he’d like at least seven or eight games to find his swing — though he wouldn’t complain if it was less and admitted it could take more.

The original timetable had called for Harper to return in mid-July, but no one involved committed to an exact date on Thursday.

“I don’t see myself coming back after five games or four games,” Harper said. “I really want to push it and see how I feel after eight or nine games down there. If I feel good before that, then we’ll see where we’re at.”

Harper, 21, was injured on a headfirst slide into third base during a May 2 game against San Diego, went on the disabled list two days later and two days after that underwent surgery to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament. Harper has missed 46 games entering Thursday night’s series opener against the NL East-rival Atlanta Braves.

He is batting .289 with one home run and nine RBI in 22 games with an OPS of .774. Harper and injured catcher Wilson Ramos (right hamstring strain) both took batting practice on Thursday and each man looked good, all things considered.

“Well, we almost ran out of baseballs. Honestly — we almost ran out of baseballs,” Williams said. “Between [Harper] and Wilson, whoever gets in the park first today and goes to the outfield will have lots of souvenirs.

“[Harper] looked fine. He did some early outfield work today. And today was his first day of hitting on the field so he was excited about that. I think we’ll do it again [Friday] and see where he’s at from there. But he looked good.”

Williams said any rehab stint would go slow for Harper, beginning with a couple of innings of work in his first game back, increasing his at-bats with each game and making sure he gets a day off, too, to help rest a thumb that’s sure to be sore for a while. The goal is to get him back to playing nine innings with no setbacks and then make a decision on a return to the majors.

“He wants to play as badly as anybody does,” Williams said. “But it’s important for him to make sure he’s ready to go when he’s ready because we don’t want any setbacks, he doesn’t want any setbacks. He wants to play the rest of the season and hopefully beyond that. So we have to be cautious in that regard.”

After his workout, an afternoon spent hitting throwing and running in the outfield, Harper was prepared for the inevitable soreness to set in after weeks of limited to no activity.

“I got a little bit of adrenaline running through me right now so I don’t know if I’ll feel that later on,” Harper said. “Of course, I think [the thumb is] probably going to be a little bit swollen, just to have that impact on it. The things we did in the outfield today, definitely I think it’s going to be a little swollen. I won’t know until later in the day.”

Meanwhile, Ramos is eligible to come off the disabled list next Thursday. He was hurt during a game in San Francisco on June 10.

“His timeframe is certainly shorter than Bryce’s timeframe to get out on an assignment and play some games,” Williams said. “He’s eligible to come off the 26th. So we’ll look to get him out for three or four [games] before then probably. That could potentially happen at some point this weekend, toward the first of the week get him out and get him going.”

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