WASHINGTON -- Nationals left fielder Bryce Harper put on an awe-inspiring display early Thursday when he took live batting practice on the field for the first time since tearing a ligament in his left thumb in April.
The slugger sprayed 14 home runs to all fields during the session -- which lasted around 20 minutes -- including the fifth, sixth and seventh pitches he saw. Two long balls reached the upper deck in right field, and another sailed well over the center-field fence, which stands 402 feet from home plate.
"We almost ran out of baseballs," manager Matt Williams said. "Whoever gets in the park first today and goes to the outfield will have lots of souvenirs."
When he returned to the clubhouse, Harper -- who also went through his second full outfield workout in as many days -- said he felt good. However, Harper anticipated swelling in his thumb later in the day after his adrenaline subsided because of the impact from hitting live pitches.
"I'm still trying to see where my swing's at and try and get in shape in the outfield," Harper said. "Just try and feel how I go about everything every single day and try to get as strong as I can."
Williams said the Nationals would likely send Harper on a rehab assignment when they go on the road, but the specific date is still in question because it depends on how the thumb reacts. The Nationals start a seven-game road trip on Monday that lasts until an off-day on June 29. The team then plays eight home games from June 30-July 8 before going on the road again prior to the All-Star break.
"He's special," Williams said. "He can go out there and take batting practice and hit the ball over the fence. But he's got to get in shape to do that rehab assignment too. So it'll take some time."
Harper said he would like to play at least seven or eight rehab games to make sure he is fully healthy and prepared to return to the Major Leagues.
"I really want to see where my thumb's at and how it feels," Harper said. "If it takes longer than that, it takes longer. If it takes less, then it takes less. But I don't see myself coming back after five games or four games. I really want to push it."
Harper suffered a similar left thumb injury in high school, which he said left the same ligament 75-percent torn throughout his time in Washington. But Harper said he never felt any pain in his thumb until he slid into third base on April 25 against the Padres.
Nonetheless, he was happy to get the thumb surgery done, especially considering he put off knee surgery last year until the offseason.
"I played through a lot of pain last year, and I'm never going to do that again," Harper said. "Going through the knee surgery and doing that, I wish I would have done it in the middle of the year last year. I think going forward right now, my thumb feels great. And I have no trouble with it at all."
Williams said the Nationals would continue to proceed carefully with Harper's thumb, as they have done all season. The manager conceded the impressive batting-practice session was a good sign, but making sure Harper is healthy for remainder of 2014 is of the utmost importance.
"We don't want any setbacks," Williams said. "He doesn't want any setbacks. He wants to play the rest of the season and hopefully beyond that. We have to be cautious in that regard."