Bryce Harper arrived at Fenway Park assuming he would be in the lineup, as he had been for the 37 previous games of his burgeoning big league career. Harper did not know coaches and trainers had talked to Manager Davey Johnson the day before, panicked about the condition of his back. He didn’t know Johnson had decided, even if he believed Harper’s sore back to be a minor issue, that his name would be left out of the Nationals’ lineup.
Harper wanted to play today, and he was clearly ticked off he is not. He took batting practice and is available to pinch hit, and Johnson said Harper will be in the lineup tomorrow when the Nationals begin a series in Toronto. But that provided little solace. He may be 19, but he did not believe he needed a break, mental or physical.
“Nah, [Jon] Lester’s on the mound, so I was pretty excited to face him,” Harper grumbled. “I like lefties. Whatever. Whatever they want to do. Nothing I can do.”
Harper has been receiving treatment on his lower back, but has maintained it is not an issue. Johnson said the ailment flared a bit Thursday, when Harper dove for a ball in right field.
“He’s had some tightness or stiffness,” Johnson said. “It’s mostly muscular. I don’t think it’s anything, but it was bothering him a little bit after the game. [Bench coach] Randy Knorr came in to me and said, ‘Bryce is hurt.’ The trainer came in and said the same thing. I think because of who he is, those guys notice anything that goes on. But Bryce hasn’t said anything to me. We’re just being on the safe side.”
Because the injury is muscular, the Nationals have not considered an MRI necessary. Harper continued to insist his off day had nothing to do with the condition of his back. “No idea,” he said. “No clue. I’m just not playing.”
Johnson walked into the training room in the Nationals’ clubhouse this morning as Harper received his treatment. He met a player in a foul mood. “I went and asked the Franchise how he’s doing,” Johnson said. “He didn’t talk to me.”
Harper loves to play, and he has played all but half an inning since his call-up in late April. He has crashed into a wall at Dodger Stadium, sprinted to first on every ball off his bat, taken hacks that push the limits of far a spine can bend and generally treated his body like a guided missile.
“The way he runs and the way he plays, I’d imagine he should be sore and stiff,” Johnson said. “When a coach vocally says his back’s bothering him and the trainer says the same thing, normally I don’t have coaches and trainers saying that about players. But anybody that has a little something going on, nip it in the bud and be on the safe side, give him a day.”