Since he was called up and inserted into the Nationals lineup on April 28, rookie Bryce Harper has played in all but 26 innings. That’s 74 games for a 19-year-old rookie who had only 130 minor league games under his belt before jumping to the major leagues.
Harper has been receiving treatment for a sore back — but Manager Davey Johnson said the outfielder’s back is fine now — and now he is dealing with a bruised ankle he suffered on Saturday. He didn’t start Saturday’s second game, played only two innings and returned on Sunday, finishing all nine innings. He was a little gimpy but made all the needed plays in center field.
Harper smacked a single in the sixth inning, beat out a double play in the first inning and reached on a throwing error in the seventh. He also lined a changeup to right field for an out and struck out swinging on a curveball. He finished 1 for 5, and he continued his mini-slump at the plate.
Since the all-star break, he has only one extra-base hit, a game-tying triple on July 18 and is 8 for 42 (.190) in that span. Opposing pitchers have discovered how, in part, to pitch to Harper, tossing him soft pitches away. Maybe he needs a day off to rest his ankle and relax? It seems like a possibility with Roger Bernadina playing well and Tyler Moore available to play left field
“I’m not sold,” Johnson said. “I remember when I was 19 and I don’t ever remember me getting tired. And I know he was a little gimpy. But he don’t look tired to me.”
“I apologized to those guys, I said ‘I’m playing the kids,’” Johnson said. “They need the playing time more than they need the rest and I’ll take the production. Because the more experience you get against the pitchers you’re going to have to face the better off you are in the future. So I think just the playing time, especially for Harp, the more guys he sees at his early age the better off he’s going to be.”
Jayson Werth, however, could make the difference. When he returns, he could spell Harper in center fielder and allow Michael Morse and Bernadina, and maybe Moore, to take the corner spots. Even Corey Brown could help, replacing Harper’s bat with another left-hander and moving Bernadina to center field.
Johnson said it is hard to rest Harper because if he puts Bernadina in center field and plays Moore, he would add yet another right-handed bat to the lineup. So for now, expect Harper to continue playing his full-speed style of baseball through his nicks and bruises, like most players are suffering at this point of the season.
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