Updated 4:55 p.m.
Bryce Harper is questionable for the nightcap of the Nationals’ split doubleheader today against the Braves today after tests on his sore left ankle revealed only a contusion and no break. Harper exited the game, a 4-0 loss, in the third inning after he fouled a ball off his left ankle in the first inning and could no longer put weight on it.
After Harper played defense in the top of the second, when no chances came his way, he retreated to the batting cage behind the Nationals’ clubhouse. Adam LaRoche and Michael Morse watched him swing, then reported back to Johnson.
“They said he can’t even swing,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “He was trying like heck, but he can’t even swing. It bothered him to land on it. That’s why I took him out. But it’s just a bruise. He’ll be fine.”
LaRoche told Harper the Nationals would not feel let down if Harper sat out the remainder of the game.
“It was pretty swollen,” LaRoche said. “The inning after it happened, I looked at it. I told him, ‘If you can go, go. But we understand. We’ve all been hit like that, and it hurts. If you can’t get around in the outfield, go tell somebody.’ ”
In his first at-bat, Harper tried to bunt for a base hit off Braves starter Ben Sheets. He deflected the ball straight down, off the inside of his left ankle. He limped away and keeled off at the waist. An athletic trainer and Johnson visited him. Harper would hobble a few steps, then crouch in pain.
Harper finished the at-bat, striking out on the next pitch. He jogged gingerly to center field for the top of the second. He did not field any balls, but after the inning he would not appear again.
It is too soon to know the full severity of the injury. If it keeps Harper out tonight or longer, it could test the Nationals’ thin outfield. Washington is using an eight-man bullpen and only a four-man bench. Once Bernadina entered the game, the Nationals had only Mark DeRosa, Tyler Moore and backup catcher Sandy Leon remaining.
The Nationals designated veteran outfielders Rick Ankiel and Xavier Nady for assignment over the past three days. If they needed another outfielder, they would turn to Corey Brown, who is hitting .302 with 21 home runs for Class AAA Syracuse and joined them briefly earlier this year. When the Nationals cut ties with Ankiel, Manager Davey Johnson cited Brown’s presence as a reason for the move.
Harper has not been at his best recently. He drilled a clutch triple off the right field wall Tuesday night, but he is 17 for his last 75 with four extra-base hits and no home runs.