MLB.com Columnist

Bill Ladson

Harper gets involved early in return to lineup

All-Star hits RBI 2B in 1st at-bat after missing 5 games with stiff neck

Harper gets involved early in return to lineup

WASHINGTON -- On Sunday morning, Nationals manager Dusty Baker had no intention of starting right fielder Bryce Harper against the Braves. The skipper figured he would give his star player another day off as he recovers from a stiff neck.

But later that morning, Harper went in Baker's office and said he was ready to play. At first, Baker turned Harper down. Harper then almost pleaded his case with Baker.

"How do you tell a grown man, no, and he said it so politely [that he wants to play.] So I put him back in the lineup," Baker said.

Harper played his first game since Aug. 6 and went 1-for-3 with an RBI, a walk and two runs scored in a 9-1 victory over the Braves. In his first at-bat, Harper doubled into the left-field corner against right-hander Tyrell Jenkins, scoring Ben Revere.

"I felt good to get out there and help the team win. That's your biggest thing," Harper said. "I had a couple of good ABs and had some success and I felt pretty good."

Harper sustained the neck injury on Aug. 6 against the Giants. Later in the week, a report surfaced on SI.com that he was dealing with a right shoulder injury, but general manager Mike Rizzo denied that Harper had such an injury.

Baker on Nationals' 9-1 win

According to Rizzo, Harper was getting treatments, such as cupping therapy and an active release technique. Rizzo said he had a low level of concern about Harper's injury.

"I just asked Bryce Harper, the training staff and the medical staff. He has never had a right shoulder injury," Rizzo said Friday. "He has a stiff neck that we have been treating -- yes, with cupping, yes with ART heat. Harper and about 14 other players on the team [go through the same treatment] on a routine basis. Just like we always do."

Harper was asked after Sunday's game if he had a shoulder injury, but he declined to answer the question. Instead, he said, "I thought coming in today I was able to help the team win. That's all I want to do."

Baker felt Harper played a great game. He noticed that Harper let the ball loose as he was trying to throw out Ender Inciarte at third base in the first inning. Baker has no intentions sitting Harper during the three-game series against the Rockies which begins on Monday night.

"I thought he moved great. He got us on the board in the first inning. It's nice to see him hit the ball to left field," Baker said. "He played well. It was a welcoming sight. You don't want him to play his first game in Colorado. It's going to be a tough road trip, tough ballpark."

Bill Ladson has covered the Nationals/Expos for MLB.com since 2002 and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.