Bryce Harper has spent much of this week sitting at his locker or in one of the big leather chairs in the back of the clubhouse, Players Weekend hat pulled low, not smiling much. Harper isn’t usually a particularly vocal clubhouse presence and isn’t known for a perpetual smile. But something about Harper has been sullen this week — subdued, somehow. Even the return of his good friend Jayson Werth didn’t seem to perk him up.
“I can sense a little frustration in his voice when I ask him, ‘How you doing?’ or say, ‘You’re walking good,’ ” Dusty Baker said. “Usually he’s not a smart aleck, but lately he’s been a little short in temperament and I can tell that’s because he wants to play.”
But Harper is not close to playing. He is not even close to running. Asked what he has been able to do in the two-plus weeks since suffering a severe bone bruise, Harper shrugged and said, “Calf raises?”
“If I wasn’t an athlete and was just an average person, I probably wouldn’t even be on it and doing anything,” Harper said. “I’m thankful enough to be able to have a strong unit in there in the training staff to come in there every day and work hard and be able to do the things I need to do around my body that take a little stress off the knee area and calf area and certain things that can speed up recovery and speed up those places around it that I can be stronger again. When I come back I don’t have to rely on one muscle or one thing in my body to keep me going, I can rely on everything. That’s what we’re doing right now.”
Harper also revealed that he suffered a calf strain in that seemingly gruesome injury two weeks ago and is wearing a sleeve over the area now. He said that strain is particularly trying for him because he has never had a muscle injury like that before. Most of his injuries — like the thumb injury he suffered sliding or the knee injury from running into a wall or his latest knee injury — have been impact, freak injuries. Muscle injuries like this calf issue can be hard to predict and difficult to rehab.
“I’m just working everything else in my body, if it’s my hips or my ankles or things like that. Trying to get my quads going and my hamstrings firing and things like that,” Harper said. “Trying to stay away from anything that puts any stress on my knee or the calf area. Once that heals, we’ll be able to go as quickly as possible and get me going.”
If he wants to play in the first game of the National League Division Series, Harper has five weeks and two days to get going. As Baker said Wednesday, “He’s a long ways from running.” Of his time for recovery, Harper pointed out, “We don’t have much.” Nationals minor league affiliates’ seasons end next week, so Harper’s options for rehab at-bats will likely be limited to simulated games in West Palm Beach, Fla., assuming he is ready to play those at all.
“That’s one reason I’m playing Jayson [Werth] in right, too. You don’t know if [Harper] has hit a plateau of healing. You’re asking me questions I really don’t know. Nobody knows. Only the Lord knows, really,” Baker said. “… I hate the thought of him not being around, but you’ve gotta make those plans whether we like it or not. Before we holler ‘doomsday,’ we’ve got a month to go and then we’ll see.”
Werth is playing right field Wednesday night, with Howie Kendrick in left and Michael A. Taylor in center. That trio would likely comprise the Nationals’ postseason outfield if Harper is not immediately available, something no one around the Nationals seems to expect to be the case, though they are nevertheless planning for it. At this point, Harper’s future consists of flying with the team to Milwaukee and Miami, where he can continue to receive daily treatment from the Nationals’ training staff and stay around the team.
“I’m just going to take what’s best for this organization and what’s best for myself. I don’t want to come back and I pop something and have to have surgery and something goes bad,” Harper said. “… Just trying to take it day by day and worry about doing what I can each day that I can come in here.”
WASHINGTON NATIONALS (80-51)
Trea Turner SS
Wilmer Difo 2B
Anthony Rendon 3B
Ryan Zimmerman 1B
Howie Kendrick LF
Jayson Werth RF
Michael A. Taylor CF
Jose Lobaton C
Stephen Strasburg P
MIAMI MARLINS (66-65)
Dee Gordon 2B
Giancarlo Stanton RF
Christian Yelich CF
Marcell Ozuna LF
J.T. Realmuto 1B
Derek Dietrich 3B
A.J. Ellis C
Miguel Rojas SS
Adam Conley P