Nationals’ Harper might return to face Phillies (Sep 26, 2017)

PHILADELPHIA — Monday was supposed to be the day Washington Nationals star Bryce Harper would make his return to the lineup.

The 24-year-old has been out of the lineup since Aug. 12 with a bone bruise in his left knee and a left calf strain.

However, flu symptoms delayed the outfielder’s return for at least another day.

So now it is possible Tuesday is the day, when Washington (95-61) plays the second game of a three-game series against the Philadelphia Phillies (62-95) at Citizens Bank Park.

The Nationals improved to 26-16 with Harper out of the lineup after a 3-1 win over Philadelphia on Monday night.

“You hate to waste these days, but you also hate to push him out there when he’s not ready,” Nationals manager Dusty Baker said.

Harper, once a National League MVP candidate who owns a .326 batting average with 29 home runs and 87 RBIs, is doing everything he can to get ready.

“He was actually here before I got here, trying to get well,” Baker said before the game Monday. “You know Bryce, he is champing at the bit to play. So it’s just another minor setback.

“This is, in essence, spring training for him. I just think it’s a miracle that we’re even talking about it.”

The Nationals, who need three wins in their final six games to tie the franchise’s single-season record, send Gio Gonzalez (15-7, 2.68 ERA) to the mound Tuesday in his final postseason tune-up. The left-hander will go up against Phillies right-hander Jake Thompson (2-2, 4.14 ERA).

Gonzalez is looking to cap off a big turnaround campaign in 2017 with another win. The former Phillies farmhand has had good career success against Philadelphia, owning a 10-6 record in 22 starts, compiling a 2.60 ERA in 138 2/3 innings. That includes two no-decisions against the Phillies in 2017. In those two starts, Gonzalez allowed a combined three earned runs in 14 innings.

Thompson has not had success facing Washington in his young career. The 23-year-old holds an 0-2 record and a 4.87 ERA vs. the Nationals in 20 1/3 innings. On Sept. 8, in an 11-10 Phillies loss at Washington, Thompson was blasted for seven runs (five earned) in five innings.

The righty, however, has been dominant in his past two outings. Thompson threw 5 1/3 scoreless innings in a Sept. 14 win over the Miami Marlins, then followed up with a brilliant performance against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday. He went five innings and allowed just one run on three hits in a no-decision during a 7-5 Philadelphia victory.

Another like those would put the Phillies in a good spot. But that also depends which Philadelphia offense shows up. Energized by an influx of youth, the Phillies have been a much different team in the second half. Still, they barely provided a punch against Washington’s A.J. Cole on Monday night.

The Phillies have scored just seven runs in their past four games.

“Our bats have gone silent for a few days now,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said.