Harper, the reigning National League rookie of the year who was off to an even better start in his second season, departed after a check swing against Braves left-handed starter Paul Maholm. Harper grounded out to end the at-bat on the next pitch, but something looked awry. After talking with head trainer Lee Kuntz and Johnson on the bench in the dugout, Harper was pulled.
This week alone, the Nationals endured scares to two of their prized cornerstone players. Stephen Strasburg dealt with right forearm irritation during Monday’s start against the Braves, at first described as the potentially more troublesome forearm tightness. Two days later, the most powerful and consistent bat in their struggling lineup exited after a swing that at first appeared to be a worrisome oblique injury. “That’s never a good thing to see,” catcher Kurt Suzuki said.
The injury, however, turned out to be the remnants of a bad bruise from Tuesday’s game.
“He didn’t want to come out of the ballgame but I saw him grimacing and I was concerned about him playing,” Johnson said. “We couldn’t take a chance on it. He could pull a lat or something and he could be out for a long time.”
Harper hurt himself on a play in the fifth inning of the previous game when he hit the right field wall trying to pull back a home run hit by Tim Hudson. Harper’s left side scraped against the wall and it still bothered it during Wednesday’s game. When he held back his swing, all weight was pushed onto the left side of his body.
“Got me to the point where I couldn’t breathe real quick and had to catch my breath,” Harper said. “It didn’t feel very good.”
Harper then hit the Maholm offering toward first baseman Freddie Freeman, who made a slick play to nab the ball. Harper, however, trotted down the line only halfway. Harper didn’t want to exit the game, but Johnson sent Roger Bernadina out to play right field in the bottom of the inning.
Following the game, Johnson was relieved. Harper, who iced the bruise, wasn’t given any tests and was set to receive medication. Harper will be re-evaluated Thursday.