WSH@CHC: Ramos makes his return to the Nationals

CHICAGO -- The Nationals got their catcher back on Thursday, when Wilson Ramos was reinstated from the disabled list. Ramos, who last played on June 10, missed two weeks with a strained right hamstring, and the Nationals optioned backup catcher Sandy Leon to Triple-A Syracuse on Thursday.

Ramos, 26, entered Thursday batting .261 with eight extra-base hits and 11 RBIs in 24 games this season. If the performances he put together during his rehab assignment are any indication, he's ready to go. Ramos went 7-for-16 (.438) with a double, two homers and nine RBI in four rehab games, two with Double-A Harrisburg and two with Class A Potomac.

He gave his numbers a small boost with an impressive two-hit game. Ramos also scored a run in the Nationals' 5-3 loss on Thursday.

Ramos said the best part about the rehab games is that he did so much running on the basepaths, which allowed him to test the hamstring and ultimately gave him confidence he could run without restrictions. He maintained that he'll only run hard when he absolutely needs to, though.

"Just, when I run home to first, [if it's] an easy out then I don't have to go 100 percent in that situation," Ramos said. "If it's a double down the line, I'm going like normal. I never run harder than I need to to play. I need to play smart, not necessarily run hard. I don't have to do that, but sometimes if the situation says I have to run hard, then I have to do it, so I have to be ready for that."

Ramos added that he plans to make some tweaks to his leg workouts. He said he'll avoid heavy leg lifting because it could make his hamstring tighten up. Ramos was slotted seventh in Thursday's lineup, which Nationals manager Matt Williams said was part of easing him back into things. Williams reiterated what Ramos said about holding back on the basepaths when applicable, but isn't worried about his catcher aggravating his right hamstring.

"We'll try to make sure we bubble wrap him as much as possible, especially here early on and get him through some games here," Williams said. "He feels good, though."

Prior to his injury, Ramos had started seven of Washington's nine games in June. Ramos has hit safely in 11 of his last 13 games and is batting .346 (18-for-52) in that span.

Leon, 25, hit .169 (10-for-59) in 18 games for the Nationals this season.

Harper may return to Nats as soon as Monday

ATL@WSH: Harper takes first BP since surgery

CHICAGO -- Bryce Harper could return to the Nationals as soon as Monday in Washington if all goes well during his rehab assignment, manager Matt Williams said.

Harper, who has been out since late April recovering from a torn ligament in his left thumb, played seven innings in right field for Double-A Harrisburg on Thursday night at Akron. He went 1-for-3 with a double, walk, and run scored in what was his third rehab appearance overall.

Williams said Harper will play a full nine-inning game Friday, will either DH or take a day off on Saturday, and will again play a full game on Sunday. The club will then re-evaluate Harper with the hope their All-Star outfielder is ready for Major League action.

"He could potentially be back, depending on how everything goes and how he feels," Williams said. "When he comes back we want him to feel good at the plate, feel good in the field and have his legs underneath him full go.

"We don't know how the next three or four days will go, but he's well on his way."

Harper's eventual return will force Williams to come up with a rotation between a surplus of outfielders. In Harper's absence, Denard Span has been a lock in center, Jayson Werth has manned right, and Ryan Zimmerman has moved to left to make room for Anthony Rendon at third.

With that in mind, Harper will play center field on Friday and left field on Sunday.

"We'll talk to him what our plans are moving forward and how we're going to do it and what the needs may be for the club," Williams said. "He's a great athlete. He can play anywhere, so that's why he's playing all three of them just to get a feel for all of them."

Williams isn't complaining about having so many options in the outfield, either, and said he has regular conversations with players about preparing to play a less-familiar position.

"We just don't know how it's all gonna pan out when everybody gets back," Williams said. "It's a great problem to have, but there are some decisions to be made on an everyday basis."

Strasburg working to refine mechanics on hill

ATL@WSH: Strasburg strikes out eight over six frames

CHICAGO -- Stephen Strasburg said after his start Wednesday that something felt off mechanically. That came as a surprise to manager Matt Williams when he heard about it Thursday.

"Mechanically, I thought he was good," Williams said. "His changeup wasn't as good. We talked about that yesterday. It wasn't as crisp, that may be what he's referring to. But I don't see any mechanical issues with him. I thought he was fine. He made a mistake with the bases loaded, and that happens sometimes. But his numbers have been really good."

The bases-loaded mistake Williams refereed to was a grand slam by Scooter Gennett in the second inning of Thursday's 9-2 loss to the Brewers. Strasburg allowed seven earned runs on eight hits in 4 2/3 innings pitched in the loss, pushing his ERA to 3.70 ERA. It was his second straight sub-par outing after he allowed four earned in six innings against Atlanta on June 20.

Take those two starts out, however, and Strasburg has a 3.24 ERA.

"It's not an emergency. Guys are allowed to, even the Strasburgs, are allowed to have a bad game in there," said pitching coach Steve McCatty. "So the last two were not good. Yeah, we see it, and we're going to work on it. I'm not going to let him get overly amped up and say, 'Oh my gosh, something's going wrong here.' It's two games."

McCatty said the mechanical issue he's seen is that Strasburg has been opening up his front side too quickly, which has caused him to rush his delivery. That in turn means Strasburg's back leg has been collapsing too quickly, which has caused his arm slot to drag. Consequently, Strasburg has left the ball up in the zone more frequently.

"That's kind of what I feel. I feel like trying to throw a true four-seamer and it's coming out more like a two-seamer," Strasburg said. "I'm not saying that it's got the two-seam rotations but it's got the movement of a two-seamer, so it's got too much left-to-right action. It's not really keeping the angle and not really pounding it down, and I think it's just something that I kind of focus in on mechanically to get back to hitting the spots a little bit better and not having it tail over the plate."

LaRoche continues to make case for All-Star bid

WSH@MIL: LaRoche scores first run of the game

CHICAGO -- Adam LaRoche continues to be the Nationals' strongest position-player candidate to make the All-Star Game.

LaRoche led the team in hitting (.306) and on-base percentage (.421) and is third in home runs (9) entering Thursday. He's posted a .292/.421/.458 line since May 25, when he came off the DL after missing two weeks with a strained right quad.

Fans can cast their votes for starters at MLB.com -- online or on a mobile device -- using the 2014 All-Star Game MLB.com Ballot Sponsored by Experian until Thursday, July 3, at 11:59 p.m. ET. The 2014 All-Star Game will be played at Target Field on Tuesday, July 15 on FOX.

Worth noting

• With a day-night doubleheader coming up Saturday, Williams hinted at some roster movements to come. The Nationals are currently carrying eight relievers, which leaves just four position players on the bench.

"It's a function of where we're at," Williams said. "We may look even further over the next day regarding the doubleheader coming up and we've got an extra guy for the second game of that doubleheader. We may look at potentially a reliever over the next day, as well. We just want to make sure that we get through the double header certainly healthy."

• Entering play Thursday, the Nationals are 34-3 when scoring four or more runs.