WASHINGTON -- Washington Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper, who has been on the disabled list since Aug. 13, took batting practice on the field Sunday for the first time since he hyperextended his left knee while running out a grounder on a wet field against the San Francisco Giants on Aug. 12.
Harper took several cuts and several balls landed well above the fence in center field. The left-handed hitter was the National League MVP in 2015 when he hit .330 with 42 homers and this year is batting .326 with 29 homers and 87 RBIs in 106 games.
The Las Vegas native took batting practice before the Sunday night ESPN game of the week against the Los Angeles Dodgers, who have the best record in the majors. The teams have the two best records in the National League and the Dodgers (96-52) beat the Nationals (89-59) in five games in last year's NLDS.
"I felt a little off, still," Harper told reporters. "Not my knee, per se, but more just myself. It's going to take some time to get back and get in focus. Got a long ways to go, and hopefully be back soon."
Can he be ready for the playoffs, which start for the Nationals at home Oct. 6?
"I hope so," Harper told reporters. "That's definitely in my head. That's what I want to do. That's where I want to be. But it takes time."
What would the return of Harper mean to the Washington lineup for the playoffs?
"When you talk about slotting Bryce Harper, there are no freebies in that lineup. He is one of the premier players in the game," Dodgers left-handed reliever Tony Watson told The Sports Xchange before the game Sunday night. "You want the great players to be out there and showcase themselves for the game. Hopefully, he gets right and we can see him in a couple of weeks."
Watson was a longtime reliever with the Pittsburgh Pirates, when he was called on to face Harper in the late innings. Watson was traded by Pittsburgh to the Dodgers on July 31.
"They have had their share of injuries over there, which is unfortunate," Watson said of the Nationals. "They have a great team. They could have gone down in the dumps, (but) they have strong leaders over there. It is a testament to their organization."
Dodgers infielder Charlie Culberson said having Harper would make the Nationals even stronger.
"Obviously big things," he said Sunday. "I had a chance to make the postseason roster last year and it was one of the best series I have ever been part of, including Game 5 here. Fortunately, we came out on top. Every pitch means something. They are a tough team to beat."