Nationals’ Harper might sit out Wednesday vs. Phillies (Sep 27, 2017)

PHILADELPHIA — Bryce Watch finally ended Tuesday when Bryce Harper made his long-awaited return to the Washington Nationals.

The power-hitting outfielder was activated from the disabled list before Washington’s 4-1 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies.

However, Bryce Watch continued for Washington manager Dusty Baker when Phillies outfielder Aaron Altherr poked a ball down the right field line, forcing Harper — playing for the first time since Aug. 12 — to hustle into the corner to keep Altherr from stretching a double into a triple.

“It looked like nothing was wrong,” Baker said. “That’s a testament to our training staff and how hard he has worked.”

Harper went 0-for-2 with a walk before being removed in the fifth inning. Baker earlier in the week referred to the last week of the season as “spring training” for Harper to get ready for the postseason.

Both Baker and Harper said the outfielder’s status for the Wednesday game against the Phillies is up in the air. They will see how Harper feels in the morning before making a determination. Washington (95-62) returns home Thursday to conclude its season with a four-game series against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Before that, the scrappy Phillies await their division rival for one last matchup.

In the series finale Wednesday, Philadelphia (63-95) sends right-hander Mark Leiter Jr. to the mound to face off with Washington right-hander Taylor Roark.

The Phillies, who have four games remaining, will avoid becoming the franchise’s first 100-loss club since 1961.

“First of all, when I said that 98, 99 or 100 losses didn’t matter, I lied,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said after his team’s win Tuesday.

Washington, meanwhile, has five more opportunities to get three wins to tie its franchise record.

Roark (13-10, 4.41 ERA) will try to get the Nationals a step closer in what will be his fifth start against the Phillies this season. His last game against Philadelphia was a 4-3 win over Sept. 7. Roark allowed three runs and seven hits and struck out six.

For the season, Roark is 1-0 with a 3.42 ERA in 23 2/3 innings against the Phillies, and he owns a 3.54 ERA in 86 1/3 career innings against Philadelphia.

Roark has been solid of late. He hasn’t allowed more than three runs in nine starts since the calendar turned to August.

“I learned from earlier on in the year,” Roark said last week, “just keep going at it, keep grinding, keep working hard and it will turn around.”

Roark’s revival has Washington heading toward the postseason with four quality, trustworthy arms at the top of its rotation.

The upstart Phillies, fueled by youthful energy, are playing much better baseball of late. However, Leiter (3-6, 4.69 ERA) hasn’t gotten into much of a rhythm.

The rookie started against Washington for the first time on Sept. 9 in a 5-4 Phillies win. He picked up the victory despite allowing four runs and six hits in six innings while striking out eight.

That start was coming on the heels of his worst to date, when he allowed nine runs (eight earned) and nine hits in 3 1/3 innings in an 11-7 loss to the New York Mets on Sept. 4.

Leiter, though, had confidence-boosting outings in his last two appearances despite not registering a win in either. His last time out, a 5-4 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Thursday, Leiter allowed three runs (one earned) in six innings against the best team in baseball.