Harper provides spark as Nats at full strength

Left fielder goes 1-for-3 in Nationals' win with two-out RBI single, run scored

Harper provides spark as Nats at full strength

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals activated outfielder Bryce Harper from the 15-day disabled list before Monday night's game against the Rockies, batting the slugger sixth and starting him in left field.

Harper ended up going 1-for-3 with an RBI and a run scored during a 7-3 victory over Colorado. Harper drove in the first run of the game with a two-out single in the fourth inning. He even came close to doubling up Justin Morneau at first base in the first inning.

"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 of the Nationals, who entered the week a half-game behind the first-place Braves in the National League East. "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 the ulnar collateral ligament in his left thumb while sliding headfirst into third base against the Padres. A little more than 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 in five Minor League games this past week and went a combined 9-for-14 (.643) with four home runs and 11 RBIs for Class A Advanced Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg. Harper's best game was on Saturday, when he hit three home runs for Harrisburg. He 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."

Harper's return to the Major Leagues means that Ryan Zimmerman will shift from left field to third base, while third baseman Anthony Rendon will return to second base. Danny Espinosa will return to the bench.

Harper suggested that Zimmerman should stay in left, while Rendon should remain at third. So where should Harper play? Was it an indication he should play center?

"Rendon is a great third baseman and should be playing third, and we have one of the best [defensive] second basemen 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 National League Gold Glove Award 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.

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, posting a 30-27 record.

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

According to a baseball source, some of the Nationals' 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 at all three outfield spots, while Span and Jayson Werth could get days off.

With Harper back, the Nationals optioned left-hander Xavier Cedeno to Triple-A Syracuse.

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