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Harper returns, wastes no time giving Nats a boost

Harper returns, wastes no time giving Nats a boost

Harper returns, wastes no time giving Nats a boost

WASHINGTON -- In his young Major League career, outfielder Bryce Harper has done some incredible things. Put what he did on Monday night among them.

After missing 31 games with bursitis in his left knee, Harper returned to the lineup against the Brewers and watched one fastball by Yovani Gallardo whiz past him. Then he sent the second one into the visitors' bullpen for a solo home run, giving the Nationals a much-needed and long-awaited boost en route to a 10-5 win.

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"Typical Bryce right there," right fielder Jayson Werth said. "He's all about the drama, so he didn't disappoint us."

Twelve minutes after rejoining the Nationals, the 20-year-old was climbing up the dugout steps for a curtain call.

"Everybody's pretty excited," Harper said of the celebration. "I think Werth was screaming, as always. That's just him. [I was] just trying to get us on the board early, and doing things like that just helps us out."

The reigning National League Rookie of the Year went 1-for-4 in his return. After homering, he struck out swinging in the third inning and flied out to left field in the fourth. He drew a sixth-inning walk and grounded into a fielder's choice in the eighth, outrunning a double-play ball to safely reach first.

Harper was removed from the game for the top of the ninth and replaced in left field by Roger Bernadina. Manager Davey Johnson simply wanted to give Harper a half-inning off in his first game back.

"[It] felt like I was back at Opening Day," Harper said. "It felt really good. Gallardo's a great pitcher, and I was just trying to get something I could drive. [I] got a pitch I could handle a little bit and put it where I wanted to."

Harper injured his knee crashing into the right-field wall at Dodger Stadium on May 13 and re-aggravated the injury with two headfirst slides on May 26. Before being placed on the DL on June 1, he was batting .287 with 12 home runs and 23 RBIs.

His first Major League trip to the DL had its ups and downs, beginning with a week of in-house treatment and culminating in a visit to the renowned specialist Dr. James Andrews, who gave him his first cortisone shot. But despite spending more than a month on the shelf, he wasn't any more anxious on Monday than he is before any other game.

"Not anxious at all," he said. "I'm excited, as always. I'm excited to play this game every single day. So it was great to get back out there."

The Nationals know that an awkward bump or hard slide could aggravate the bursitis. He covered the knee with protective padding on Monday and will continue to do so for the rest of the season. At the very least, the knee will be something that he has to pay extra attention to as the team turns the corner and enters the second half of the season.

But Johnson doesn't want -- or expect -- the injury to change how Harper plays.

"I'm sure he's probably going to still run into a wall. I'm sure he's going to dive headfirst," Johnson said. "But I don't want to put a damper on that. That's who he is. That's how he plays the game."

Long before the game's first pitch on Monday, at around 2 p.m. ET, Johnson walked through the clubhouse and spotted Harper.

"Is that really you?" Johnson asked, jokingly. "Are you OK? You ready to go?"

Harper shook Johnson's hand and replied, "Yeah. I'm ready."

Five hours later, his home run cleared the fence.

"I don't think we were expecting that with the first at-bat, but we'll take it," Jordan Zimmermann said. "He's something special."

Tom Schad is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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