Harper shows signs of progress in knee rehab

Hoping to return by NLDS in 3 weeks, Nats star jogs, takes swings off tee, soft toss

Harper shows signs of progress in knee rehab

WASHINGTON -- Bryce Harper is beginning to make small strides of progress in his recovery from an injured left knee, an encouraging sign for the Nationals as they hope to get the star outfielder back for the postseason. Harper jogged around the warning track at Nationals Park, along with a team trainer, prior to Wednesday's game against the Braves.

Harper has also begun some light baseball activity, including taking swings off a tee and soft toss in the batting cage, according to manager Dusty Baker.

"He's in the process," Baker said. "I think if anything that five-day layoff [before the start of the postseason] will probably help him as much as anybody here."

Harper has been sidelined since Aug. 12 when he hyperextended his left knee, sustained a significant bone bruise and strained his calf trying to beat out a grounder at first base. After it was confirmed that he had avoided the worst-case scenario, the Nationals have remained optimistic that Harper will be able to return in time for the postseason.

There is still approximately three weeks remaining before the National League Division Series begins, so there is still time for Harper to begin ramping up activity. Baker said Tuesday that the Nats hoped to get Harper hitting soon if his knee could handle it, and that running would likely be the biggest hurdle for him to clear.

Perhaps the biggest key for the Nationals before the regular season closes will be getting key players healthy and keeping them healthy.

Jayson Werth returned to the starting lineup Wednesday after missing five games with a sore shoulder. But while the outfielder was back, second baseman Daniel Murphy was out of the lineup with a stiff neck. Baker said he could tell by the way Murphy was swinging the bat Tuesday night that his neck was bothering him, so he wanted to give him a day to rest.

That will be Baker's dilemma during the next few weeks, looking to balance resting his starters while trying to keep them sharp for the postseason.

Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.