Harper shows flashes of coming into form

Nationals star goes 2-for-4 in best game since returning from DL

Harper shows flashes of coming into form

WASHINGTON -- From the moment he returned earlier this week for this pseudo-rehab assignment before the playoffs begin, Bryce Harper was adamant that he would not pay much attention to the results.

But he has improved each time he stepped on the field in the five games since returning from the disabled list after a knee injury, culminating in Sunday's 11-8 loss to the Pirates. Harper went 2-for-4 with a walk and a run scored. His two hits were also hit hard, at 110.6 mph for his opposite-field single in the second and a 114.8-mph single to right field in the seventh -- his second hardest hit ball of the year.

Perhaps the best test for Harper's legs came in the seventh inning when he scored from first base on a double from Adrian Sanchez. In usual Harper fashion, his helmet flew off as he raced around the bases to score with ease.

"First time I've really turned it on in seven weeks or so," Harper said. "It felt good."

In five games this week, Harper finished 3-for-18 with a pair of walks, runs scored and stolen bases, although both were as the trailing runner for stolen bases by Trea Turner. His next game will be Game 1 of the National League Division Series, presented by T-Mobile, which begins 7:30 p.m. ET Friday at Nationals Park against the Cubs. The game will be broadcast on TBS.

"He looked better. He's been looking progressively better," manager Dusty Baker said. "He's seeing pitches. He's laying off bad pitches. Now it's time for us to go for a few days."

Baker has said all week that Harper will benefit most from the four off-days until the start of the postseason as his left leg gets closer to full strength. The Nationals treated these games like Spring Training games for Harper, increasing his innings and workload as the games progressed.

Washington will take the day off Monday before they work out the next three days before the playoffs begin.

"Just try to stay as normal as I can," Harper said. "Go out there and play my game and worry about what I can control.

"The next four days are going to be a lot of fun to just relax mentally, physically for everybody in this clubhouse. I'm excited to hang out with my family and enjoy that with them and look forward to Friday."

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.