The Washington Nationals are infamous for protecting Stephen Strasburg during the 2012 season, setting an innings limit on him.
While they were careful with Strasburg, it seems the opposite is true for their young offensive star, Bryce Harper.
According to Mark Zuckerman of Nats Insider, Harper is less than 100 percent healthy:
Harper took awkward swings, he labored to get down the first-base line and he gingerly took his position in the field between innings.
In the middle of the third inning, shortly after Harper limped down the line on a groundout to second base, Jayson Werth brought his teammate’s cap and glove out to the field for him. Werth, though, withheld Harper’s equipment for several seconds, appearing to seek some confirmation first that Harper felt well enough to continue playing.
Zuckerman goes on to say that Harper is dealing with a hip injury, an injury that manager Davey Johnson only found out about on Monday.
“I was a little disturbed that I wasn’t informed that he was having some treatment on his hip,” Johnson said. “But every time anybody talks to Harp, he says: ‘I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine.’ So I’m going to stick with him.”
With the Nationals currently sitting 15 games out in the NL East and 7.5 games back in the wild card, is it time for the Nationals to protect Harper from himself?
The Rest of the Schedule
There's no hope of the Nationals catching the Braves in the division, but there is a small sliver of hope in the NL Wild Card.
However, they still have to jump over both the Diamondbacks and the Reds to get that second spot.
While they are 9-4 in their last 13, only two of those wins came against a playoff contender (Royals). Six of the other seven wins came against the Cubs and Marlins.
Recently, the Nationals have lost three of their last four, including two of three to the Mets.
I'm not going to count out the Nationals, but their chances of making the playoffs are at 2.6 percent, according to ESPN's playoff odds. Of course, the Reds could have a Red Sox- or Braves-like collapse through the last month, but I don't see that happening with their schedule.
Because of that, it's important for the Nationals to be thinking about the future as it concerns Harper.
Last week I wrote about how Harper's agent Scott Boras is looking for a 12-year contract for his young stud. While I think 12-year contracts are a mistake regardless, it's even more so if there are injury concerns.
I understand Harper is only in his second year in the big leagues and he's young. Most likely, he'll recover to full health.
However, now is when he can hurt himself even more. When a player is playing through pain, that's when they're more likely to hurt themselves even more. And if Harper hurts himself worse, that will take him off the field for a part of next year when the Nationals expect to contend again.
Harper should be applauded for wanting to play through the pain, but he also has to realize he is the face of the franchise. There's no problem with taking risks, but there's a difference in good risks and bad risks.
When your team is basically out of the playoffs and you're playing through an injury, that's a bad risk.
I'm not saying put Harper on the disabled list, but the Nationals need to protect Harper from himself. There is no reason he should be on the field if he's hurting. He's too valuable to the franchise.