Harper's upcoming return to bring lineup decisions

Harper's upcoming return to bring lineup decisions

WASHINGTON -- Nationals left fielder Bryce Harper (torn thumb ligament) is slowly but surely approaching his return to the field.

On Tuesday, Harper swung a bat with both hands for the first time when he took soft toss in the cage. On Wednesday, Harper put his left hand into a glove and went through a full outfield workout with first-base coach Tony Tarasco, which included catching balls, agility exercises and barehand drills, manager Matt Williams said.

When Harper does come back, the Nationals will need to make room in the lineup.

Currently, left fielder Ryan Zimmerman, center fielder Denard Span and right fielder Jayson Werth make up the starting outfield. But Williams said when Harper is cleared, Zimmerman would likely move around and play three different positions: first base, left field and third base. Meanwhile, Anthony Rendon will switch between third base and second base.

Williams said his day-to-day decisions with the lineup when Harper returns will rely heavily on pitching matchups and which players need rest. Because of that, Harper could play all three outfield positions when Werth or Span need a day off.

"The good thing about our club is they have experience," Williams said. "Bryce has experience playing center field and he has experience playing right field. It's not something that's foreign to him because he's done it. Anthony can play third and second. Zimm can play left and first, we've seen that. And he certainly has hardware to prove he can play third. So it's not like it's something foreign."

Williams admitted the mixing and matching is not an easy task. But he'd rather have options than be forced to overwork players like he did in the beginning of the season when injuries plagued the Nationals.

"It's been difficult so far this season because we've had so many guys hurt," Williams said. "[Harper's return] potentially could allow us to give some guys some rest."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. Daniel Popper is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.