Bryce Harper returned to Potomac for the second time in as many years Monday, only on this night, he sported a pad on his left hand that resembled an oven mitt.
"We're gonna go bake," said the 21-year-old outfielder, who was the third-youngest player on P-Nats roster.
On the mend with a surgically repaired thumb, Harper singled while Washington teammate Wilson Ramos fell a triple shy of the cycle as both began rehab assignments in Class A Advanced Potomac's 5-2 win over Salem on Monday.
Returning from a torn ligament in his left thumb that he injured April 25, Harper singled to left field in the first inning on a 2-2 pitch and drew a two-out walk in the third before Ramos knocked him home with a three-run homer to right off Red Sox starter Justin Haley. Harper was replaced in left by Khayyan Norfork in the fourth.
Aside from minor pain in his thumb when connecting with the pitch, Harper said he felt pretty healthy.
"I felt fine," Harper told the Washington Post. "I felt good. I just want to see pitches. If I can work deep in counts and see more pitches, that's huge for me. I just want to see a lot of pitches."
He only saw action in left Monday, although the team said that he will play all three outfield positions over an eight-game rehab assignment before returning to Washington. He's expected to be re-evaluated Wednesday and could potentially rejoin the Nats on June 30 or July 1 against Colorado.
"It's exciting," Harper told the paper. "I love this game. I love coming out here and playing. Being around the Minor League guys, it's a lot of fun. I've known a lot of these guys and I've played with a lot of them. It's fun to get back out here and just be competitive and try to win a game."
Ramos is on the mend from a Grade 1 right hamstring strain that sent him to Washington's 15-day disabled list on June 10. He grounded into an inning-ending double-play in the first, hit a single to center in the fifth and doubled in the eighth, but was unsuccessful in his lone test behind the plate when Salem third baseman Mario Martinez safely stole second in the second inning. Ramos' throw went out into center field.
"We need Willy up there," Harper told the Post. "He's one of the best hitting catchers in the league when he's hot."
For Harper, the rehab assignment is the long-awaited final step in a two-month absence from the field. He was hitting .289 with a homer and nine RBIs for the Nats before injuring his hand while sliding head-first into third base on a bases-loaded triple. The rehab stint this week marks Harper's second in two seasons -- the 2013 National League All-Star made a pair of starts with the Nats' Carolina League affiliate on June 25 and 26 last year as well.
"We'll see what I can do against Minor League pitching down there," Harper told MLB.com. "I'm just excited to get down there and succeed with anything I do. I'll try to get back [to the Major Leagues] as ready as I can be."
According to the Post, Harper will rest Wednesday and have his left thumb checked by the team -- he underwent surgery to repair the torn ligament in April and said he expects he'll need between seven and nine rehab games in the Minors before he's ready. Harper, who is expected to play about five innings Tuesday, could return Thursday and up his workload to seven innings Friday before taking Saturday off. He's then expected to play between seven and nine innings Sunday and Monday, potentially as a designated hitter, before making his way back to Washington.
"We're all itching for him to get back, and he's itching to get back too," Nationals manager Matt Williams told the Post. "I just want him to go play and get his timing, feel good about it and make sure he doesn't push it so much that he does something detrimental to his progress."
"I'm very excited to get back out there," Harper told MLB.com. "We'll see where I'm at physically. I'll try to go day by day, at-bat by at-bat. I try to work hard and get back where I need to be."