- The Washington Times - Monday, July 1, 2013

Davey Johnson ambled into the dining room in the Washington Nationals’ clubhouse early Monday afternoon, laid eyes on his 20-year-old outfielder and smiled.

“Is that really you?” Johnson asked Bryce Harper. “Are you ready to go?”

Harper smiled. “I’m ready,” he told his manager.

Thirty-one games after he was last in the lineup for the Nationals, Harper was activated from the disabled list Monday and slotted back into the No. 3 spot in the order, homering in his first at-bat. His presence on the lineup card alone was enough to entirely change the dynamic of the Nationals’ construction.

“I’m excited to get going,” Harper said, wearing a backwards cap and a red shirt that read, “When you wanna succeed as much as you wanna breathe.”

“I’m excited to be back out there on the field and back on this club,” he added. “I’m really looking forward to tonight.”

With Harper back, the Nationals went back to the type of lineup they had at the season’s outset but have been rarely able to use since because of various injuries.

Jayson Werth moved back into the No. 2 spot and second baseman Anthony Rendon, who had filled that slot beautifully the past 15 games, dropped into the No. 7 spot.

Suddenly, the Nationals’ lineup looked a whole lot longer.

“It was fun thinking about it last night,” Johnson said of getting as close to having the team’s Opening Day lineup together as he has in months. “When I came in, [hitting coach] Rick Eckstein had it written out for me. I said, ‘Yeah, that’s where we’re going.’ It is fun.”

Johnson opted to put Werth back in the No. 2 spot for a number of reasons, but mostly because of his history as a player who gets on base consistently and because of Harper’s comfort hitting behind Werth in the lineup.

At this point in their respective careers, Johnson felt Werth has a little bit more pop in his bat for that spot, to put more pressure on opposing managers, and Rendon could provide better protection for shortstop Ian Desmond than he’s had for much of the year.

“I want them to give the opposing manager pause before he brings in his bullpen, a left-hander, to go through those three left-handers in the first five [in the lineup],” Johnson said. “It’s not a slap at Rendon at all. The other guy’s got a proven track record.”

As for Harper, his tour through the minor leagues gave him the added confidence that he has largely put his battle with bursitis in his left knee behind him.

Harper played in four rehab games with Nationals minor league affiliates and pushed himself to fully test his knee. He came away pleased.

Harper was 4 for 11 (.363) while on rehab with Single-A Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg, with a double, a triple, a home run, three walks and three RBI.

“I think the first day when I slid into second on the bloop double, when I ran around the bases after that it felt good,” Harper said. “I really pushed it every single game I played. Made a couple diving plays in the outfield and also dove into third and back into first a couple times.

“I didn’t feel it at all and I think really where I was in my head, I was thinking, ‘I’m ready to go, let’s get going.’ … Everything I did out there I did at full force; I made sure to play every single game hard and push my knee to the limit. Nothing really stopped me from playing this game hard.”

Harper will still have to be cognizant of taking care of his knee. He will wear a soft brace under his uniform pants and will have to stay on top of it in the training room with ice and treatment as necessary. He experienced minor swelling during his rehab assignment, he said, but nothing that would set him back or concern him.

Don’t expect to see him playing any differently, though.

“In reading his reports [from rehab], from Day One he hit the field down there in Potomac, he was 100 percent full out,” Johnson said. “I think not only his bat but just the energy that he brings. He takes a lot of the focus and he’s a competitor. Just having that 20-year-old energy running around at 100 percent [will help us].

“I’m sure he’s going to still run into a wall, I’m sure he’s going to dive head-first. He did that on his first day back [in games]. But I don’t want to put a damper on that. That’s who he is and that’s how he plays the game. That’s great.”

NOTES: Wilson Ramos (left hamstring) moved his rehab assignment to Single-A Potomac on Monday, where he was expected to catch seven innings. If all goes well, he will catch nine innings for Potomac on Tuesday and could join Triple-A Syracuse at Lehigh Valley (Pa.) to complete his rehab Wednesday. Johnson is hopeful Ramos will be ready to return to the active roster Thursday. … Ross Detwiler, who experienced some back spasms and stiffness after his last start, threw a bullpen session Monday and came through it well. He is expected to make his regularly scheduled start Wednesday.

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