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Harper homers in return to Nats

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WASHINGTON -- Rust? Nerves? Patience? Those are all foreign concepts to Bryce Harper, who announced his return to the Washington Nationals' lineup Monday with an immediate bang.

In his first game back after missing 31 contests with bursitis in his left knee -- partially brought on by his penchant for slamming into walls -- Harper energized Washington with one at-bat.

Milwaukee starter Yovani Gallardo got one pitch past Harper in the first inning, and that was enough for the second-year star to get his timing down.

Harper promptly delivered Gallardo's second pitch into the left field bullpen for an opposite-field shot that left everyone shaking their heads and Harper hopping up the dugout steps to take a curtain call, the opening salvo in a 10-5 Washington triumph that also saw Jordan Zimmermann pick up his 12th victory.

"It felt like I was back at Opening Day," said Harper, referencing the April 1 contest in which he hit two homers. "I feel really good. Gallardo's a great pitcher, and I was trying to get something I could drive. I got a pitch I could handle a little bit, and I put it where I wanted to."

Harper went 1-for-4 with a walk in his return, with the opening at-bat leaving an impression.

"Wouldn't you know it?" Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. "We kind of expected something special."

Zimmermann (12-3) wasn't dominant, allowing more than three runs for the just the third time this season, but staked to an 8-0 lead, he had no problems tying Detroit's Max Scherzer for the major league lead in wins while continuing his impressive run at home. He improved to 14-0 in his last 21 starts at Nationals Park.

And for good measure, Zimmermann racked up a career-high three hits and scored two runs.

"It's fun going out there when you know they're going to give you four to eight runs a game," Zimmermann said. "As long as I can go deep in ballgames and keep the runs minimal, good things are going to happen."

Good things are not happening for the veteran Gallardo (6-8), who gave up a season-high eight runs in three-plus innings as the skidding Brewers lost their sixth straight.

Rickie Weeks and Juan Francisco homered for Milwaukee, who closed the gap to 8-5 before allowing two runs in the eighth.

"We got down a lot, and the guys kept fighting and made it interesting," manager Ron Roenicke said. "We got to a point where we thought we were back in the ballgame."

Jayson Werth drove in a season-high five runs for the Nationals, who moved two games over .500 (42-40) for the first time since May 28.

"We've played great ball all year -- I don't know why everybody keeps saying we haven't," said Harper, who saw Washington go 15-16 in his absence. "Being five, six games out at the break, that's damned good."

One game after scoring 13 runs, the Nationals didn't skip a beat, hammering Gallardo early.

With the Nationals already ahead 1-0, Zimmermann started a five-run, third-inning rally by doubling down the left field line and moving to third on a wild pitch.

Denard Span fouled off a host of tough pitches before drawing a walk, and then Werth laced a double into the left-center gap to make it 3-0 Washington.

Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond delivered consecutive RBI hits to put the Nationals up 6-0.

Washington continued to tee off in the fourth. Zimmermann registered his second hit of the game to set up another spurt that saw Gallardo exit, leaving the Brewers in an 8-0 hole.

After playing a 14-inning affair Sunday, Milwaukee (32-49) wanted to rest its weary bullpen, but that didn't happen. Three Brewers relievers covered the final five innings, with Johnny Hellweg allowing Washington's final two runs.

NOTES: Roenicke said he's not concerned with the trade rumors swirling around his disappointing team. "Every veteran's name is going to come up, and a lot of times, there's nothing to it," he said. ... RHP Erik Davis had a short stay with the Nationals, getting sent down to Triple-A Syracuse on Monday to make room for Harper on the roster, just two days after being called up to the big-league squad. ... Milwaukee LHP Tom Gorzelanny, a former National, spent a portion of the pregame shaking hands and receiving hugs from his former teammates and coaches.. ... Washington RHP Stephen Strasburg will start against the Brewers on Tuesday, the only NL team he has yet to face during his career. RHP Wily Peralta will pitch for Milwaukee.
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