After the fall and looping his arms around a trainer and the hitting coach to be carried off the field, Bryce Harper had a moment of defiance in the dugout late Saturday night. He wanted to find out what the pain in his left knee meant. Was his path to a second MVP award crushed? Was the Nationals’ season, so injury-ridden it’s hard to understand how they remain afloat, undone by summer rain, a skid and a stupendous fall?
Harper was not sure. So, in the dugout he shed trainer Paul Lessard and hitting coach Rick Schu to see if he could perform the task of a toddler. Could Harper make it up the stairs alone?
He trudged up the concrete steps from the dugout to the Nationals clubhouse. It hurt. But, he could do it. Then, Harper explained to the team doctor that he was going to jump side to side. If he collapsed, fulfilling the great fear of the night that ligament damage would end his season, so be it. He landed left, then right. Sore but solid. Concerned, but not devastated.
“I didn’t feel, like, anything I’ve never felt before,” Harper said. “That was definitely good.”
The MRI showed no ligament damage. Harper had a “significant” bone bruise, to use Washington general manager Mike Rizzo’s term. Harper’s timeline for a return this season is vague, though he, Rizzo and Nationals manager Dusty Baker all said Harper will be back. That’s a better alternative to the clear 6-9 months it takes to recover from an anterior cruciate ligament tear.
“The good news is that there’s no ligament or tendon damage, which is pretty remarkable in my mind just seeing the type of injury that he had,” Rizzo said. “There is a significant bone bruise when he hyperextended the knee. So, although we feel we’ve dodged a bullet a bit here with any long-term ligament and tendon damage, the bone bruise is something of significance and we’re going to treat him cautiously and hopefully have him back later on this season.”
Harper’s left knee has often been ensconced in the modern-day equivalent of ice since he crumbled in the bottom of the first inning Saturday night. Rizzo said Harper is using a Game Ready machine, which takes ice-cooled water and circulates it to a wrap that runs from the mid-shin to mid-thigh. The sleeve also provides compression. For now, that’s all Harper can do to heal.
The injury launched numerous thoughts in his head. He flashed back to teammate Adam Eaton crossing first base and tearing his left ACL in April. He thought about former teammate Wilson Ramos, who slipped on a wet field in Nationals Park last September and tore his ACL just before the postseason began. Harper cursed the fact the Nationals were playing a game on a wet surface that started at 10 p.m. He thought Washington’s chances at a World Series and his chance at the NL MVP Award, his second in three seasons, may have just crashed. After the relief of the MRI results, he started to think about when he will be returning to the team.
“There’s not really a recovery timetable,” Harper said. “If I feel good, I’m going to go. If I don’t feel good, you [reporters] know how I feel and what I do and how my mindset is, I’m going to push it to the limit. That’s how I’ve always been. I’m never scared to put force into it or anything like that. We’re going to take some time to definitely let it heal. I want to be at 100 percent whenever I play. The World Series is definitely on my mind. Playoffs, things like that. One award’s on my mind, as well. You guys know what that one is. It’s a big one to me. Definitely team accolades and things like that come in front of my own, but that’s something I’m striving towards.”
Harper won the NL MVP award in 2015. He had a down year in 2016. A report last season from Sports Illustrated said that Harper had a shoulder and neck problem. Harper never confirmed that. The team denied it. Sunday, Harper alluded to playing while injured in the past and how he would handle that now, giving prominent consideration to the Nationals’ hefty 14-game lead in the National League East.
“If I feel good, I’m going to play,” Harper said. “If I don’t feel good, then I’m not going to go out there and play. I want to be at 100 percent as I go out there. I’ve played through injury before and I’m not going to do that anymore in my career. Of course, if we were in the playoffs right now, I’d tape it up and get out there, hobble the best I could, do that. But, as of right now, as a team, I think we’re doing a great job. We have a pretty sufficient lead in August. Of course that doesn’t mean anything until you get there. But it does help out the fact that I can sit on it a little bit, let it heal, let it rest and get to where I need to be.”
There was another admission, too: Harper is a worrier. He tends to think the worst even when the mundane hits.
“I think I’m going to die every time I have a stomach ache,” Harper said.
The worry made him check his shoulder, ribs and hips Saturday night and Sunday morning after he flew through the air.
“Definitely a pretty epic fall,” Harper said.
He was up Sunday. That’s what mattered. His movement and test results diffused the worries of Saturday night. Michael A. Taylor was activated to fill Harper’s spot when Harper was placed on the 10-day disabled list with a “Hyperextended left knee.” No caveats. No surgeries. The season’s dreams, and his ligaments, had remained intact.
• Todd Dybas can be reached at email@example.com.
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