WOODBRIDGE, Va. -- Bryce Harper didn't get to test his left knee in the outfield or on the bases during his second rehab game at Class A Advanced Potomac on Wednesday night. That left the batter's box as his only proving ground, and while the results weren't perfect, Harper displayed the impact bat the Nationals have been desperate to return to their lineup.
Some afternoon rain, combined with the the possibility of more wet weather at Pfitzner Stadium, limited Harper to designated hitter in Potomac's 6-5 win over Myrtle Beach, a Rangers affiliate. He took three at-bats in five innings, notching a strikeout, a home run and a lineout to right field. He also hit a foul ball off his right foot, experiencing some pain but no serious injury.
"His knee feels good," Potomac manager Brian Daubach said of Harper, who again did not speak with the media. "Now it's just about his timing and getting more at-bats."
Harper, who played three innings in left field on Tuesday, likely will not return to the Nationals until next Monday, when the club opens a home series against the Brewers. Daubach was not sure if Harper would remain with Potomac for the final game of its homestand on Thursday.
Washington's Double-A Harrisburg affiliate begins a four-game series in nearby Bowie, Md., on Thursday, so that could be another possible destination for Harper.
Wednesday marked exactly one month since Harper played his last big league game, after which bursitis in the knee put him on the disabled list. After Harper hit a bloop double and drew a walk on Tuesday, his second game offered the opportunity to increase his comfort level at the plate.
In his second at-bat against Myrtle Beach right-hander Jerad Eickhoff, Harper worked a 3-1 count, then dug out an offspeed pitch low in the zone and sent a towering shot high into the overcast sky. Right fielder Jake Skole drifted farther and farther back, but eventually ran out of room as the ball completed its long descent over the wall.
"It was a 3-1 changeup, and obviously he popped it up a little bit, but he's so strong, it carried out for him," Daubach said. "But a 3-1 changeup, to stay back on it enough to hit a home run, that's a good start."
Harper's other two at-bats lasted a total of 13 pitches. In the first inning, he swung through a pitch above the zone and struck out. In the fifth, one pitch after taking the foul ball off his foot, he hit a line drive directly at Skole in right field.
"He chased some pitches up that he probably wasn't happy with, but that happens when you're not playing," Daubach said, comparing the process to when Jayson Werth rehabbed with Potomac earlier this season.
"He saw a bunch of different pitches. These kids that are facing him, they want to strike him out, so they're pitching him really tough. … They were throwing their best breaking balls to him, so I thought he did a good job of laying off those, and the more he sees, he'll keep improving."
That's good news for the Nationals and their starving offense. Before the team's win over the D-backs on Wednesday, general manager Mike Rizzo was asked about his team's biggest priority ahead of the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.
"We would like to see a big left-handed bat," Rizzo said. "His name is Harper, and he is on the horizon. And we would like to get a hitting catcher named [Wilson] Ramos."
Harper is closer to a return, assuming he does not suffer any setbacks.
He appeared to escape one in his final at-bat, when the foul ball nailed his foot. Harper bent over at the waist with his hands on his knees as Daubach and Potomac's trainer went to him. After a minute, Harper gathered himself and stepped back to the plate, then left after completing his at-bat.
"Unfortunately, that happens a lot in baseball," Daubach said. "It was right off the inside of his foot and it hurt for a while, but it went away. He was scheduled to go six innings anyhow, so get some treatment, get some rest, and he'll be back at it tomorrow."