Bryce Harper visited with Dr. James Andrews on Monday morning and had his left knee examined by the renowned orthopedist. The bursitis that has kept him out of the lineup for more than two weeks is said to have improved in recent days, according to general manager Mike Rizzo and manager Davey Johnson.
Aside from a tweet the outfielder sent early Monday evening that said simply "All good! #FinishIt," the Washington Nationals were mum Monday on the results of Harper's second opinion from Andrews. And while Harper is eligible to return to the active roster as early as Tuesday, when he actually will remains unclear.
What they can hope, however, is that it's not too far off.
The Nationals know that one player will not cure all of their ills, that the responsibility for turning their team into the type of unit they expected to be falls on each player individually and not on one to save them. But they need Harper back, and they need him healthy.
As one evaluator put it very simply last week, Harper "changes the entire dynamic of the Nationals' lineup."
Steve Lombardozzi, Roger Bernadina and Tyler Moore have been the primary replacements in the lineup with Harper out. They've hit a combined .230 since May 26, when Harper last played, with just seven extra-base hits and three walks. They've struck out in a quarter of their combined at-bats.
Even collectively, they pale in comparison to Harper. But having him healthy is of extreme importance.
"I'm not going to rush it," Harper said Thursday, the last time he addressed his knee publicly with reporters before his visit with Andrews.
"I'm going to take as much time as I can to get right. I want to get back in this lineup 100 percent. I don't want back in it at 80 percent."
The moment most identify Harper's injury woes with is his gruesome crashing into the right-field scoreboard at Dodger Stadium on May 13. That was the one that sent Harper to the ground in a heap. The one that left him needing 11 stitches in his chin, X-rays on his arms and legs, MRIs on his abdomen, and concussion tests.
And yes, it was the start of Harper's issues with his balky left knee.
But when the Nationals placed the 20-year-old outfielder on the disabled list at the start of the month, Harper looked back at an earlier incident and pointed to that as the start of a rocky month of May. He cited the moment the left side of his body slammed into the wall in right field at Turner Field in Atlanta in an effort to rob a home run from Tim Hudson.
Some have described that scoreboard as a cheese grater, chewing up outfielders who are unfortunate enough to brush against it. Harper couldn't save Hudson's ball from sneaking into the stands, and he was left with a nasty bruise.
At that moment, Harper was hitting .344 on the season. He had a .430 on-base percentage and was slugging .720.
He came out of the following day's game, though X-rays were negative, when he grimaced and appeared short of breath after he took a swing. He did not miss any games because of injury, though, until he hit the wall in Los Angeles. But from the moment he ran into the wall in Atlanta, his numbers took a tumble.
He hit .193 with four extra-base hits in the 17 games he played from that point until May 26. After the collision in L.A., though, his playing time was intermittent as he worked to cope with the pain.
"I thought hopefully my body could have got past it," Harper said when the Nationals placed him on the disabled list. "After I hit the wall [in Atlanta], I think I should have went on the DL, just try to get better and came back 15 days later. With a lot of guys out, I wanted to stay in the lineup the way I was swinging it.
"Of course, I want to play every day. It's something that, maybe I'll learn more in my career to take off 15 days instead of lose the month of whatever it is. ... If we're in September, October, I'm going to play. I wouldn't be sitting out. It's just one of those things where you've got to be smart about what you do."
The Nationals seem to plan on having Harper back soon. Rizzo said Sunday there was "no worry" about Harper's second opinion revealing any structural issues in the knee and that the visit was strictly "protocol."
Their actions also indicate an impending return. When the team optioned Moore to Triple-A on Sunday night, Johnson cited getting Harper back as one reason why the Nationals decided to do it now. They called up Chris Marrero to take over the role as a backup first baseman, and with Harper coming back Johnson said he didn't envision having much playing time left for Moore in the coming days and weeks.
"The swelling was significantly less when I saw him and the doctor likes the progress," Rizzo said. "We're upbeat about it. We'll see where it takes us."
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