Nationals: Harper to close out regular season

Nationals: Harper to close out regular season

WASHINGTON -- Following a night off from the starting lineup Thursday against the Pirates, the Nationals plan to play Bryce Harper for the rest of the weekend to close out the regular season.

Harper was activated from the disabled list Tuesday night in Philadelphia and played in back-to-back games after missing 42 games with a left knee injury. He said Thursday that he was a little sore following his return to action, however, he felt good otherwise.

"Don't be alarmed," manager Dusty Baker said.

The Nationals have been trying to strike the balance of getting Harper ready for the start of the postseason, but also not overworking him during what is essentially a Minor League rehab assignment that the team must hold in the Majors because of how late in the season it is.

So they are building Harper up as if this were Spring Training. He was removed in the bottom of the fifth inning Tuesday after going 0-for-2 with a walk, then went 1-for-4 with a single, stolen base and run scored Wednesday before he left the game in the sixth.

"I don't see any limps, I don't see him stumble," Baker said to assess the two games. "When he turns and pivots to make a throw, he looked really good. You wouldn't know that he's been out a period of time other than his timing on missing some balls, missing the bat head, which is to be expected. Hopefully he can get that here pretty soon."

The Nats insist they are not concerned with Harper's results in these games, rather him getting adjusted to playing baseball again. Now he has three more games to play this weekend before Game 1 of the National League Division Series against the Cubs, which begins next Friday Oct. 6 at Nationals Park, and Baker believes those extra days off could be a blessing in disguise.

"Each day that goes by is another day that he can get sharp and well," Baker said. "I already think he's well, but he got to get sharp."

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.