It would be safe to assume Bryce Harper wanted to play Saturday night. He has slowly been regaining the timing of his swing and the sharpness of his batting eye. Friday night, he hit his first homer since he came off the disabled list. He has gone 8 for 28 against Cole Hamels with one double, seven singles and one very memorable hit by pitch, which, if we’re remembering right, he followed with a stolen base.
But Manager Matt Williams had been looking to give Harper rest, for both the sake of his surgically repaired thumb and the rest of his body, which he believes is still adjusting. Even though the all-star break looms only two days away, Williams decided he would rest Harper.
“Part of Bryce’s coming back is that we look for day for him,” Williams said. “Given the fact that Scott [Hairston] has such good numbers against [Hamels], we looked to this day, anyway, to give him a day. Bryce will certainly be back in there tomorrow. It’s part of the scheduled process. It’s a long process.”
Williams had eyed Saturday night because it would allow him to insert Hairston. (Williams also could have rested Denard Span and played Harper in center.) The Nationals will lose on defense with Hairston, who hasn’t started since June 18. But Hairston entered 15 for 38 with five homers and five doubles against Hamels.
Williams has repeated Harper needs time and at-bats to regain his timing at the plate. Missing Saturday’s game would rob him of more chances, but Williams wasn’t worried. “I think right now, it’s more about strength, and making sure he feels good,” Williams said. “We all say, ‘Well, the kid is 21 years old, he should be fine.’ But your whole body takes a beating if you’ve been off that long, too. Part of the process is to get him a day when you can, early on especially.”
While Harper rests, shortstop Ian Desmond will return. He missed Friday’s game with a swollen right hand, the product of a fastball that drilled him in the eighth inning Thursday night.
“It was one of those, I felt like it could have went either way,” Desmond said. “In the hand, it’s always really scary. You could feel fine, but the X-ray could say there’s a broken bone and you get shut down. When you’re dealing with hands and little bones, it’s always scary. He got me good.”
Desmond could have taken both weekend games off and given his hand an entire week to heal with the all-star break, but he said that was never a consideration.