Bryce Harper will return to the Nationals’ lineup tonight in Orlando against the Braves having missed six games with a strained left calf. Missing that time could not have helped his bid to make the Nationals, and he told CBSSports.com that he thinks it probably cost him his chance. But General Manager Mike Rizzo said Harper still has a chance, and his injury will not decide Harper’s 2012 starting point.
“We have a lot of games left,” Rizzo said. “There’s 19 or 20 games left in spring. It’s kind of set him back a little bit as far as getting his at-bats. I don’t think it will be part of the decision-making process. We feel he has enough time to get back into the swing of things.”
Asked point-blank if Harper still had a shot to crack the Nationals’ roster, Rizzo said: “We haven’t any made any decision to the contrary. He’s still in the picture. We’re still early in the decision-making process.”
While Rizzo hasn’t publicly ruled it out, Harper making the team seems highly unlikely. Harper probably needed a pitch-perfect spring training to make the team, which because of the calf injury has not happened. And, even if Harper destroyed the Grapefruit League, the Nationals still would have had to face the financial ramifications of burning a year of Harper’s service time by not waiting until at least late April to call him up.
No matter what happens with Harper, it is of far more interest to gauge his progress than to wonder when he’ll make the team. Rizzo has been impressed with Harper’s strides in the outfield and on the basepaths, the two places he most needs to mature. Before the strained calf sidelined Harper, he was 5 for 10, all singles, with one walk and two strikeouts.
“I think he’s progressed well,” Rizzo said. “I like the progression he’s made in the outfield. He’s still very aggressive in everything he does. He does everything full throttle -- defense, throwing, running the bases, that type of thing. That’ll come with experience to when to pick his spots, go first to third, hit the cutoff man and try to throw a guy out. I like his progression defensively.
“Offensively, he’s gotten his hits. He’s the type of guy, even though he may not look good at an at-bat, he always seems to find a way to get things done.”