Bryce Harper injury: Nationals outfielder targeting July 1 return

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Harper has begun preliminary on-field work, but he hasn't been cleared to take swings yet.

The Washington Nationals are hopeful that outfielder Bryce Harper will be able to return from the disabled list in less than a month, according to Comcast Sports' Mark Zuckerman. The 21-year-old underwent surgery after tearing a ligament in his left thumb on April 26.

Nationals manager Matt Williams broke down the team's plan for Harper's return to the lineup.

"He's just doing some fielding with his glove and some throwing. Just to get maintain as much motion as he can. To maintain as much baseball activity as he can, without doing too much with it ... It's not time yet. He's itching, he's pacing. But that's one of those things where he's 21 years old. If it doesn't heal right, it can affect him long-term. So we want to make sure he's good before he's able to get back out here."

In the 22 games before his injury, Harper was hitting .289/.352/.422 with a home run and nine runs driven in. Getting him back at full strength would go a long way toward helping the Nats in their effort to emerge as a contender in the competitive NL East.

Free agent signing Nate McLouth has filled in for Harper for the most part, hitting .180/.305/.250 in 119 plate appearances. Somehow, he's managed to score fewer runs and record fewer hits and extra base hits than Harper despite appearing in more than twice as many games. He should return to his role as the club's fourth outfielder when Harper is activated.

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