Pat Summitt, 1952-2016:

Hulking Bryce Harper takes batting practice for first time since thumb injury

Bryce Harper, sidelined since late April with a thumb injury, returned to the field Thursday — to the pre-game batting cage, at least. And, as is often the case with Harper, he was blasting some BP pitches out of the yard.

Harper is expected to return in early July from a torn ulnar collateral ligament that required surgery. Washington Nationals skipper Matt Williams has said July 1 is Harper's best-case return date. Batting practice is just that, practice, but Thursday's showing was at least a good indication that Harper is coming along.

Before anyone salivates too much, let's remember that Harper has always put on a show in batting practice — whether it's his famous 500-foot home runs as a teenager or his impressive showing at last year's Home Run Derby. His inconsistencies on the field, from injuries to streaky play, can't be washed away because of a BP show.

Harper, ahem, Mr. Big As a House, also treated Nats fans to a gun show, making sure nobody forgot his huge arms. All the better to hit BP homers with, eh Bryce?

When Harper returns, there's a good chance he'll be joining a team that's higher in the standings than when he left. The Nats were in third place after his last game, and currently they're in first with a half-game lead over the Atlanta Braves.

As everybody knows, the Nats are a team that has the talent to compete for a World Series. Much as Harper will need to turn those BP homers into game-time homers, the Nats needs to show they can turn potential into reality this summer and win the NL East again. Having a healthy, hulking Harper is certainly going to help.

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Mike Oz is an editor for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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