Late Friday night, Bryce Harper heard Davey Johnson wanted to give him Saturday night off. He wasn’t going to let that happen. Harper had 10 stitches over his left eye – a wound self-inflicted when he smacked a wall with his bat and the bat bounced back and hit him the face – but he wanted to play. He sent Johnson a text message begging to play.
After Johnson inspected the damage, he penciled Harper’s name into the lineup in his customary spot, hitting fifth and playing left field. Today, Harper said he was fine, and the swelling where he had been struck had decreased.
“Maybe he can take out that anger on the opposing pitcher today,” Johnson said.
Harper avoided watching “SportsCenter” last night, not wanting to see his bloodied face on loop. He liked the nickname Bam Bam his teammates had given him – his full name is Bryce Aron Max, and his parents used to call him that as a kid.
Johnson talked to Harper about the incident and also his approach at the plate. Johnson felt Harper, after a disciplined first two weeks in the majors, had become too anxious against the Reds’ constant offspeed attack. Harper went 0 for 5 with three strikeouts, his worst game in the majors.
“Last night was one of the few times all year I thought he was overly aggressive,” Johnson said. “He’s been very patient, making them throw it the strike zone. Last night, they were throwing him a lot of offspeed stuff, and he was chasing.
“Obviously, the whole night he was overly aggressive. He hit that wall pretty hard. Maybe it knocked some sense into him.”
The Nationals and Harper could joke about his injury today, but it also brought a sobering thought. If the bat had caromed off the wall and nailed him an inch or so lower, it would have struck his eye. If he detached a retina and gave himself a concussion or who knows what else, the incident could have caused irreparable damage to his career.
“We were actually very fortunate,” Johnson said. “It could have been a heck of a worse.”