Bryce Harper this morning addressed the left knee injury that finally sent him to the disabled list after he toggled in and out of the Nationals lineup for several weeks. Harper’s explanation of how his injury worsened, coupled with Manager Davey Johnson’s comments yesterday, indicate the person who had the most say in Harper’s playing schedule was the 20-year-old himself.
The Nationals placed Harper on the disabled list yesterday, 19 days after he collided with the right field wall at Dodger Stadium. Harper aggravated his knee on several occasions as he tried to come back into the lineup, especially last Sunday, when he slid head first into third base on a stolen base and then fouled a pitch off his knee. (He stayed in that game for seven innings, anyway.)
Harper said today he probably should have gone on the disabled list well before the slide – and even before he hit the wall in Los Angeles. On April 29 in Atlanta, Harper bruised his left side smashing into a fence at Turner Field trying to rob a home run. He played the next night. But Harper says now it may have been best to go on the disabled list then.
“Of course,” Harper said. “But I didn’t want to go on. I thought hopefully my body could have got past it. I think after I hit the wall here [in Atlanta], I think I should have went on the DL, just try to get better and came back 15 days later. With a lot of guys out, I wanted to stay in the lineup the way I was swinging it. Of course, I want to play every day. It’s something that, maybe I’ll learn more in my career to take off 15 days instead of lose the month or whatever it is.”
Harper’s performance suggests he was compromised after hitting the fence in Atlanta. Before Harper jumped into the wall in Atlanta, he was hitting .360/.444/.756. Since then, Harper has hit .188/.312/.359.
With fellow outfielder Jayson Werth also out of the lineup and Harper carrying a flat-lining offense, he wanted to keep playing. The Nationals allowed him to, at least in part because he told them he felt fine.
“Well, you just don’t know how bad the injuries were,” Johnson said. “He felt all right, really he felt pretty good the next day [after the collision in Los Angeles]. He had some bruises but didn’t have any swelling. And when he went back to playing and he dove for a ball and then he slid head-first, I think it was probably a sensitive area and he exacerbated it by pounding on it more. So he felt good enough and he wanted to play, and he knows his body better than anybody. But I think it was probably a little injury and diving for a ball in right field and then going head-first into third didn’t help it.”
Now that he is on the disabled list, Harper can focus on returning. For now, he is not doing any baseball activity – no hitting, no running – and only receiving daily treatment to keep the swelling down. He hopes he can return to batting practice, “at the middle or the end of next week,” he said. This morning, Harper flew back to Washington.
“I feel the same as I did the other day,” Harper said. “It’s still swollen and crappy. Just trying to get treatment and see if the swelling will go down. Of course I don’t like going on the DL. I want to play. It’s tough just sitting there and not doing nothing.”
Harper said he is “not sure” if he’ll be able to return June 11, the first day he is eligible to come off the disabled list. He felt relieved to land on the disabled list, knowing he can focus only on healing rather than potentially playing.
“I don’t have to come to the field and try to get ready for a game and think, ‘Oh, man, if I feel better, I can play. If not, then I’m, not going to play,’ ” Harper said. “It’s nice just being able to try to get treatment on it and try to be ready in 10 days and see how I’m feeling from there.
“It lets everything heal. My hand, my wrist, my side, everything. So that’s good. Hopefully I’ll come back and I’ll be full strength and I’ll get going, hopefully against Colorado.”
Harper said he would try to learn from the experience and not push an injury too hard in a similar situation – but only depending on the situation.
“If we’re in September, October, I’m going to play,” Harper said. “I wouldn’t be sitting out right now. It’s just one of those things where, you’ve got to be smart about what you do. Just try to come in every day and get better and do things the right way.”
Harper was once again asked about his style of play, and whether it would have to change in order to protect the longevity of his career. Once again, he gave a measured answer and defended his max-effort style.
“I think it’s just the way I play,” Harper said. “I go out there, I want to give 110 percent to these fans and for myself. I look at myself in the mirror and tell myself, ‘Hey, you gave it your all today. I went 0 for 4, it happens.’ A good day on the field means I’m going 110 percent, going hard, running everything out and doing things the right way. I’m not going to change that aspect at all.
“The way I work in the offseason, the way I work and get ready for my season, I don’t think I’m prone to having a shorter career. I think I’m going play this game for 20 years, and I don’t care what anybody says.”