Bryce Harper won’t turn 21 years-old until his season is coming to an end. He has the upside of being the next Ken Griffey Jr. and is already a middle of the lineup bat and a five tool player. In other words, he is the offensive version of fellow teammate, Stephen Strasburg. Both will be perennial all-stars if they play healthy and both may be the best at what they do for the next decade.
Last season, the Nationals shook the baseball world by “babying” Strasburg. The phenom was on a strict innings limit and was promptly shut down before the regular season ended. The 98-win Nationals, who very well could have won the World Series with its ace-like starter still pitching, were instead knocked out in a heart-breaking game five to the St. Louis Cardinals, blowing a 2-0 series lead and 6-0 Game Five advantage. Washington leveraged a chance to win it all in exchange for a potential decade of an ace.
And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Two nights ago, Bryce Harper appeared to injure himself trying to rob a home run off of pitcher, Tim Hudson. While jumping for a ball he would eventually aid over the wall, Harper landed up against the scoreboard, bruising his side in the process.
The next day it was evident Harper was hurting, wincing as he swung and not able to drive the ball in batting practice. Despite manager, Davey Johnson, and GM, Mike Rizzo, staring directly at him the whole time, all three including (obviously) the player elected for Harper to stay in the game. Harper grounded out in his first at bat and uncharacteristically didn’t run it out. During his second at bat, Harper drew a walk but appeared to miss a few easily hittable pitches. Even though he continued to wince in pain, he was kept in the game. Harper had an additional at bat where he grounded out before he was pulled.
On Thursday, there was Harper again in the starting lineup. A 20 year-old asset who should be treated just as importantly or nonchalantly as Strausberg depending on the Nationals’ caution with their irreplaceable assets, said he was fine so he stayed in the lineup. The media rejoiced, calling Harper a “gamer” and “old school”. Harper responded with an 0-4, including a strikeout and a walk. His power looked obviously diminished when he failed to hit a meatball out in his first at-bat and he continued to not look like himself throughout the game.
To the Nationals’ credit, X-Rays were taken and came back negative. To play Devil’s advocate, Strausberg never showed signs of injury or diminished velocity last season and Washington admittedly chose an unannounced and arbitrary innings limit. Unannounced so they had some flexibility, arbitrary because no statistic has been concrete enough to declare an injury-proof innings limit.
Still, Harper looked hurt, looked hurt again, then a third time, stayed in a game and then looked compromised on Thursday and stayed there anyway. If the Nationals are going to baby Strausberg, how do they justify letting their 20 year-old perennial All-Star make his own demands as to whether he plays or rests for a few days? How do you not give him a cautioned day off? At least one? How do you let him finish an at-bat where he doubled over in pain from checking his swing and then play most of the game and the entire next one?
Will Bryce Harper’s side heal itself magically?
To make matters worse, Washington faces a similar situation with Jayson Werth. Werth is not a cornerstone player, not as young as Strasburg or Harper but does represent a nine figure contract on the Washington payroll. Werth, a fellow outfielder who has a position locked down in the event Harper did have to miss some time, now will be missing some time himself.
Despite also being hurt and feeling pain on Wednesday, Werth bullied his way into the lineup on Thursday. Before the game it was a big joke when he sent a text saying “play me or trade me”. It wasn’t so funny when he was pulled in the fifth inning with continued tightness in his hamstring. Werth, by the way, was 0-2 with a strikeout before coming out. He too is “day to day” despite hamstring and ankle issues and the Nationals at this time do not anticipate a DL stint.
That means two guys who play major roles in the construction of the roster today and in the foreseeable future, were able to dictate their way into the lineup, play through obvious injury, fail to deliver since they were clearly compromised and now at least one will be missing time.
If the Nats were smart, at least one would be sent to the DL until absolutely healthy.
Instead, the media is celebrating two “gamers” and praising Harper for willingly going 0-4 in the middle of the lineup while failing to see the irony of Strasburg’s absence and Washington’s missed World Series hopes.
Strasburg didn’t have a choice.
Harper and Werth shouldn’t either, regardless of what the official “reports” say.