Harper's suspension cut to 3 games

Nats outfielder was originally hit with 4-game levy

Harper's suspension cut to 3 games

SAN FRANCISCO -- Bryce Harper's suspension for his role in Monday's benches-clearing incident has been reduced from four games to three, the Nationals announced on Wednesday. Harper will begin serving his suspension in Wednesday night's series finale against the Giants and will be eligible to return for Sunday's game against the A's.

"Not happy that it was three, but three is better than four," Nats manager Dusty Baker said.

Harper was initially handed a four-game penalty from MLB on Tuesday for charging the mound and throwing his helmet past Hunter Strickland after being hit on the hip with a 98-mph fastball. Harper said he immediately knew it was a purpose pitch, and although Strickland denied its intent, the only history between the two players was during the 2014 National League Division Series when Harper hit a pair of home runs against him. Harper and Strickland, who was suspended six games and is also appealing, exchanged blows and had to be separated as both benches cleared. The two were also both fined an undisclosed amount.

A day later, Harper was still shocked at the way everything played out, but he didn't share any reaction as to whether he believed the length of either suspension was justified.

"It's just crazy that it even happened," Harper said before Tuesday's 6-3 win over San Francisco. "After three years, to do that, I don't know what was going through his mind or how upset he was the last couple years. If he did have a problem, he could've talked to me in [batting practice] about it and say, 'I didn't like the way you went about it.'"

Tempers flare in San Francisco

Baker said Harper wanted to serve the suspension immediately to make sure he was eligible to return for the start of their three-game series with the Dodgers next week in Los Angeles. The Dodgers have been playing well, just moved into first place for the first time this season and of course, beat the Nationals in the NL Division Series last season.

The suspension leaves the Nationals without Harper, who might be able to use the days off to work on his swing. He has just six hits in his last 45 at-bats over the past 12 games, and his average has dropped 66 points during that span.

"You know he's going to go to work," Baker said. "Those couple days off really helped [Daniel Murphy] and you see how he responded. You see how Anthony Rendon responds to a day off. A day off is not only a physical day off but it's also a mental day off."

Still, overall Harper is off to an excellent start to the season, with a .433 on-base percentage and 1.076 OPS, and his 15 home runs are tied for the NL lead. His suspension also comes while the Nationals are carrying just three true outfielders on their roster, Jayson Werth, Michael Taylor and Brian Goodwin, who is starting in right field Wednesday. Baker also hinted that Adam Lind could make a start in the outfield at some point during the weekend series in Oakland.

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.