SAN FRANCISCO — A decision came swiftly, as a day after Bryce Harper announced he would appeal his four-game suspension for fighting Giants reliever Hunter Strickland, Major League Baseball reduced that suspension to three games, according to people familiar with the situation. Harper will begin serving that suspension Wednesday evening and will therefore be eligible to return Sunday against the Athletics.
“Very happy,” Nationals Manager Dusty Baker said. “Not happy that it was three, but three is better than four.”
Everyone with the Nationals made a case against the suspension, which they did not feel appropriately considered the relative culpability of the parties involved. Had Harper not charged the mound, the argument went, Strickland would have gotten away with firing a 98 mph projectile at one of the game’s best players — though, of course, a less-talented target would not make the act any less troublesome.
Baker made his case publicly, saying he did not think the suspension was fair because the whole incident was not fair to Harper. General Manager Mike Rizzo made his case to the league office, efforts that seemed to work at least to some degree. In fact, Harper was the only one to stay mum about the fairness of the whole thing, stating only that it was up to the league and the players’ union, and his thoughts about what was fair and what wasn’t did not matter much. He was not available for comment before Wednesday’s game.
No corresponding alteration has been announced for Strickland’s suspension, which currently sits at six games. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports first reported Harper’s reduction, which has not been officially announced by the league. Because Strickland is a reliever, he will probably miss about three or four days of work — so three or four innings, generally speaking. Harper will miss 27 or so.
“We’re actually hurt more by this than they are,” Baker said.
The break might not be a terrible thing for Harper, who was 0 for 5 Tuesday night and is hitting .133 with a .493 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in his past 12 games.
“A day off is not only a physical day off, but it’s a mental day off,” Baker said. “… He didn’t want to miss the L.A. series, that’s why he took it here.”
It does leave the Nationals without their No. 3 hitter, meaning Ryan Zimmerman and Daniel Murphy will likely have to carry the load until Sunday, when the slugger is set to return.
It also leaves a hole in the Nationals’ outfield, which is short on depth as it is with Chris Heisey on the disabled list after rupturing his biceps. Heisey is on rehab assignment with Class AA Harrisburg and would be eligible to return from the disabled list on this trip. But without him, the Nationals are carrying just one extra outfielder — Brian Goodwin — along with Adam Lind, Wilmer Difo, and Stephen Drew. Lind and Difo have both played some outfield, but neither is natural to the position, so Baker’s options will be limited, barring an unexpected roster move. Baker said he plans to start Lind in one of these three games, despite the fact that right field in Oakland is, Baker explained, a difficult sun field for even experienced outfielders.
Steinberg: Bryce Harper started it. Totally.