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Mike Rizzo: ‘No worry’ about structural damage in Bryce Harper’s knee

Bryce Harper walked out of the Nationals clubhouse this morning with a backwards cap and a small black bag hanging on his shoulder, headed to catch his flight to the Andrews Institute in Pensacola, Fla.

Harper will see high-profile orthopedist James Andrews Monday morning for a second opinion on his swollen left knee, which the Nationals have diagnosed as bursitis. General Manager Mike Rizzo said the Nationals have no concern Andrews’s evaluation will reveal structural damage in Harper’s knee and called the visit part of the Nationals’ protocol for players on the disabled list.

“There’s no worry about it,” Rizzo said. “It is our protocol that players get a second opinion on any part of the body that we feel is a disabled list type of injury. Guys get second opinions all the time here. Every person that we put on  the disabled list has gotten a second opinion. We send him to our team physician. He makes his diagnosis. We start the rehab process. We get the second opinion, just for corroboration, and that’s our protocol. This is no different than when [Stephen Strasburg] went out, then when [Ross Detwiler] went out. Same thing. Second opinion.”

Across every professional sports league, a visit to Andrews often signifies doom. Rizzo, though, said Andrews’s renown should not be taken as cause for alarm. The Nationals use a different specialist for every part of a player’s body, Rizzo said, and Andrews happens to the Nationals’ preferred knee specialist.

“James Andrews, we utilize him for our knees,” Rizzo said. “When there was a hand injury, we didn’t send him to James Andrews. We sent him to the hand specialist for the second opinion. I didn’t that [name] in any headlines. But it’s protocol. I’ll leave it at that.”

Harper will travel with the Nationals as he rehabs his left knee. The Nationals plan for him to join them in Colorado Tuesday following his visit to Pensacola. Manager Davey Johnson said Harper will not be available Tuesday, the first day Harper would be eligible to come off the disabled list. But both Rizzo and Johnson said Harper’s knee has shown improvement.

“The swelling was significantly less yesterday,” Rizzo said. “The doctor likes the progress. We’re upbeat about it. We’ll see where it takes us.”

The Nationals have gone 4-13 this season with Harper out of the starting lineup compared to 25-18 – a 94-win pace – when he plays. Harper last played May 27 against the Phillies, when two headfirst slides and a pitch fouled off his knee exacerbated the injury he suffered running into the Dodger Stadium fence May 13.