Bryce Harper begins rehab assignment, expects to move around Nationals’ outfield

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Out for the past two months with a torn thumb ligament, Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper began a minor-league rehab assignment Monday night at Single-A.

Harper singled in his first at-bat and later walked before exiting the game after three innings as planned. He played left field, which is where he’s expected to spend most of his time upon rejoining the Nationals, although Harper could also see some action in center field if the team decides to keep using Ryan Zimmerman occasionally in left field rather than third base.

Zimmerman said Monday that he’d prefer to remain in left field but is willing to play third base if that’s where the Nationals need him. Similarly, Harper said after his first rehab game that he’d prefer to remain in one outfield spot full time but is willing to shift around on a game-by-game basis if the Nationals want it that way instead:

I want to get comfortable in one spot. I got in a little bit of trouble last year playing right field and getting hurt. So I think just trying to stay in one spot would be great. But with the outfield we have, I don’t think that’s going to happen. So being able to play left and play center and play right is something that I need down here.

July 1 is Harper’s expected return date for now, so the Nationals have another week to decide what their plan will be.

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Astros talking to Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole about extensions

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It’s extension season and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports that the Astros — who already agreed to an extension with Alex Bregman — are discussing contract extensions with Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole.

Funny thing about Verlander, by the way: when he got his current $180 million deal, most people fell into the “oh, there’s an overpay!” column. What’s more, this past winter, when everyone was talking about how bad it is to give guys big long term deals, Verlander’s name was notably absent in the conversation despite the fact that his deal has turned out to be quite good. I suppose that says something about how good the anti-long-term deal folks are at cherrypicking.

That being said, Rosenthal says “it would be an upset” if either Verlander or Cole signed extensions. I can see that. Verlander is still locked up, thanks to a team option that will almost certainly be exercised, through 2020, and Cole is a Scott Boras client and Boras clients tend to hit the market rather than sign extensions. Perhaps their former teammate, Dallas Keuchel‘s, terrible experience on the free agent market this winter will alter that calculus. Hard to say.