The Washington Nationals were a popular preseason pick to reach the World Series this year, but a slow start has raised some questions about the team’s ability to meet lofty expectations. Losing Bryce Harper certainly won't help matters.
Harper crashed into the left-field fence in Washington’s 8-1 loss to Atlanta Tuesday, but there didn’t seem to be any long-term effects from the collision. According to Harper, however, the incident resulted in the pain he felt when checking his swing in the sixth inning Wednesday, which caused him to leave the game (as quoted by Amanda Comack of The Washington Times):
While Harper said his collision with the wall on Tuesday night, which gave him a nasty bruise all down the left side of his torso, didn’t help matters, the check swing “just got me a little bit.”
“I think having all the force going towards the ball and then just stopping immediately it just got me,” Harper said. “Got me to the point where I couldn’t breathe real quick, and had to catch my breath. It didn’t feel very good.”
None of that sounds particularly encouraging, but according to Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post, Harper’s X-rays came back negative:
Were Harper to miss substantial time due to the injury, Washington would be entering dangerous territory. With a .337 batting average and nine home runs this season, the left fielder is the only thing keeping the league’s sixth-worst scoring offense afloat.
Given the good news from Harper’s X-rays, however, it doesn’t seem like the 20-year-old should be forced to miss much time. As he told Mark Zuckerman of NatsInsider.com prior to Wednesday’s contest, he can play with pain:
If I can play tomorrow, I'm gonna play. If they put me in the lineup, I'm gonna play. I can play with pain and I can tolerate pain, so hopefully there's nothing that can keep me out of that lineup tomorrow.
Harper obviously overestimated his ability to cope with the results of the collision, but his willingness to play Wednesday night (and the good results of his X-rays) is a positive sign for a quick return.
At 14-14 and 3.5 games out of first place in the NL East, the Nationals are certainly within striking distance of overtaking the Braves this season. It’s still extremely early in the year, and there are plenty of games left to recover.
Were Harper to miss a chunk of those games, the story would be a little different. As it stands, his injury shouldn’t be a major setback.
Washington’s weekend series with the Pittsburgh Pirates will be a good litmus test for success without Harper, though. If he misses any of the three-game set, the Nationals will be forced to combat one of the hottest teams in the National league without their brightest star—a challenge that could help determine how far along the team has really come.