Nats’ Harper back in lineup

By Bill Ladson

WASHINGTON — The Nationals activated outfielder Bryce Harper from the 15-day disabled list ahead of Monday night’s game against the Rockies. He will be in the lineup playing left field and hitting sixth.

“I’m excited. I come in here and I’m able to get back out there for a team that is in contention,” Harper said. “It’s a lot of fun. I’m excited to be back.”

Harper hasn’t played a Major League game since April 25, when he tore an ulnar collateral ligament in the left thumb while sliding headfirst into third base against the Padres. A little over two months later, Harper said he is not going to change his running style. He plans to slide into the bases headfirst and feet first.

“Sliding headfirst is what I’m comfortable doing. I’m going to keep doing it,” Harper said.

Before he was activated, Harper played five Minor League games this past week and went a combined 9-for-14 [.643] with four home runs and 10 RBIs for Class A Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg. His best game was on Saturday, when he hit three home runs for Harrisburg. Harper had the day off Sunday.

“I felt good at the plate,” Harper said. “That’s the only thing I really cared about. I cared less about being on base or in the outfield or anything like that. It’s always a process. With my swing, I felt pretty good. It was where I needed to be. I’m very excited to come back and hopefully help this team win.”

With Harper coming back to the Major Leagues, it means that Ryan Zimmerman will go from left field to third base, while third baseman Anthony Rendon will return to second base. Danny Espinosa will return to the bench.

Harper said Zimmerman should stay in left, while Rendon should stay at third.

“Rendon is a great third baseman and should be playing third and we have one of the best [defensive] second baseman in Danny Espinosa,” Harper said. “Of course you want the best hitting lineup in there. I think Rendon playing third and Zim playing left is something that would be good for this team.”

It will be interesting to see how this new arrangement works out, as Zimmerman, who has won a Gold Glove at third, said recently that he is more comfortable in left field and that Rendon is the best man to play third base. Rendon has been playing Gold Glove-caliber defense at third.

“Going out to left field gave us the best chance to win. It’s a good problem to have. Too many good players and not enough spots,” Zimmerman said recently. “I’ll see what happens. I’m pretty comfortable in left and I think Anthony is a hell of a third baseman. I think there is no doubt right now he is better over there than me. But you have to have your best players in the lineup somehow. Whatever [manager] Matt [Williams] needs me to do, that’s what I’ll do.”

As one source said, “the team needs to get better offensively.”

Harper improves a lineup that has been sputtering since he went on the disabled list. During Harper’s absence, the Nationals hit .237 with a .304 on-base percentage. The team also went 30-27 during his absence.

Harper is expected to balance a lineup that was mostly right-handed. Harper and Adam LaRoche and Denard Span are expected to be the left-handed hitters in the lineup.

“Just his mere presence in the lineup is going to be huge,” an American League scout said about Harper’s return. “I think [the Nationals] will become even better because you have to respect Harper’s bat. [When] you have Wilson Ramos [behind the plate], the Nationals should be clicking on all cylinders.”

One baseball source also said that some of the starting players will rotate on occasion. Not only will Zimmerman play third base, he will continue to see playing time in left field and at first base. Harper could see time in all three outfield spots, while Span and Jayson Werth could get days off.

With Harper back on the team, the Nationals optioned Xavier Cedeno to Triple A Syracuse.

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