WASHINGTON -- With each day that passes during the 2017 postseason, the Nationals are counting on Bryce Harper's left knee to continue to improve. He played in five games during the final week of the regular season and began the postseason by promptly collecting a single in the first inning Friday night's 3-0 loss to the Cubs in Game 1 of the National League Division Series presented by T-Mobile.
Harper's knee has been good enough for him to get on the field, but as more time passes, the closer he gets to returning to form.
"Those [five] games, it's kind of like playing [five] games in Spring Training. You know, taking six weeks off, seven weeks off, not seeing live pitching is tough."
Before his injury, Harper was one of the favorites to win the NL Most Valuable Player Award. He finished the season with 29 home runs and a 1.008 OPS in 111 games and was again one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball. Harper went 3-for-18 with a pair of walks during the final week of the season, which the Nationals treated as a sort of rehab assignment.
They found other ways to get him as many at-bats as possible. During the off-days before the start of the NLDS, he faced Nationals pitchers and Minor Leaguers for live batting practice.
"I feel the same way he feels," manager Dusty Baker said. "I've already stated that the longer this goes, the better Bryce has to get right."
Baker said Max Scherzer's bullpen session Friday afternoon went smoothly, keeping him in line to start Game 3 on Monday in Chicago. His 2017 postseason debut has been pushed back because of a sore right hamstring.
"We'll see how deep he can go," Baker said. "That's the question on anybody that's kind of semi-injured: When they fatigue, are they strong enough to battle through whatever is bothering them?"
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.