LOS ANGELES — Somewhere in the thoughts that streamed into Bryce Harper’s head as he lay writhing on the warning track at Dodger Stadium on Monday was the question: How bad is this?
Washington Nationals center fielder Denard Span was the first by Harper’s side after the 20-year-old crashed face-first into the scoreboard inside the right field wall and collapsed in a heap. As he instructed Harper to stay down and not try to get up, he knew.
“You could tell he didn’t know where he was at,” Span said. “He just kept asking me: ‘Is it bad? Is it bad?’”
Harper required 11 stitches in his chin area but he avoided a concussion, the team said. He was examined by Dodgers head physician Dr. Neal ElAttrache and X-rays done on his left shoulder and leg came back negative. Everything was sore Tuesday, though.
Harper was out of the lineup and felt nauseous, likening it to perhaps the feeling one gets after being in a car accident. Asked what hurt, he ticked off a list: both legs, left shoulder, ribs, wrist, chin. You name it. It wasn’t clear if he’d be able to return by Wednesday, but the Nationals won’t rush him.
“It just depends on how he’s feeling,” manager Davey Johnson said. “He’s awful stiff today. He hit that fence real hard with his head, so we’re going to be real closely watching that. They just want him to stay quiet [on Tuesday], not worry about anything.
“He took [an Impact concussion] test [Monday] night and [ElAttrache] is one of the best in the world. He said he didn’t have anything but I’m sure, being it’s Bryce Harper, they’re going to probably run some more tests today.”
As blood dripped down his neck and head trainer Lee Kuntz examined him Monday night, Harper tried to convince Johnson he could stay in the game. That wasn’t happening.
But what no one can really control is the maximum effort with which Harper plays. Harper has played in 174 major league games, and he’s already had significant injury scares largely because of his intensity.
This is the second time he’s run into the wall at Dodger Stadium, though the first, last season, was far less injurious. His crash into the right field scoreboard in Atlanta two weeks ago left him with a contusion on his rib cage.
He also has no plans to change his style.
“I’m going to play this game for the rest of my life and try to play as hard as I can every single day,” Harper said. “I’m trying to kill myself out there on the field for my team, trying to win a World Series. People can laugh at that all they want, but at the end of the day I’m going to look myself in the mirror and say I played this game as hard as I could and tried to help my team win a World Series everyday.
“I’ve always played like that. Even in college. I’d run into walls and get back up and go, ‘Holy crap, maybe I shouldn’t have done that.’ But that’s the way I play.”
Harper said this did not constitute one of those “holy crap” moments. He thought he had another 5 feet before the wall would arrive, and he was wrong.
“We’re used to it,” third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “I would rather him not go all-out into the wall, ever. But that’s the way Bryce plays. That’s the way he’s always played and I think some people look at it as a bad thing, maybe, and that’s why people boo or don’t like him. As a player and as someone who plays the game, if you play that hard every day there’s something to be said about that. And that’s what Bryce does.”
Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp ran into that wall in a similar fashion earlier in his career, shortly after the scoreboard was installed. He required surgery to repair a torn labrum and minor debridement of his rotator cuff this past offseason, an injury he suffered in August when he slammed into the center field fence at Coors Field in Colorado.
“It looked bad,” Kemp told the Los Angeles Daily News of Harper’s crash. “I was just praying that he was OK.”
The Nationals don’t want to force Harper to change how he plays. He is one of the most talented players in the game, and with what he’s shown at 20, the potential for what his career may look like is tantalizing. So they accept the risk, because it’s part of who is and what makes him so great.
Harper is also still a relatively new outfielder, having only begun to focus on it in earnest after the Nationals signed him in 2010. The expectation is that as he gets better at understanding his position, he will be better at avoiding such scenes.
“He hasn’t been out there enough to probably even realize he’s running on the warning track, warning that the fence is close by,” Johnson said. “I don’t want to put a damper on his enthusiasm. That’s who he is.
“It’s just going to come with experience. One of the best teachers in the world is hitting that wall hard. He’ll learn quick.”