A drop of good news came after all the gasps Saturday night: Bryce Harper has a “significant” bone bruise in his left leg, but no ligament damage, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said Sunday morning.
Harper had an MRI early Saturday morning to assess his left knee following the troubling optics of a tumble Saturday night that forced him to be helped off the field without putting weight on his left leg.
“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.”
The Nationals entered play Sunday with a 14.5-game lead in the National League East. The regular season ends in nine weeks.
Harper was sprinting to first base in the bottom of the first inning Saturday night after a three-hour rain delay. He stepped hard onto the center of the first-base bag, slipped, then jammed his left leg into the ground. The force sent Harper into the air before he came crashing to the dirt beyond the bag. He immediately reached for his upper shin. Trainer Paul Lessard and hitting coach Rich Schu helped Harper off the field.
Twice Sunday, Rizzo said he expected Harper back this season. The 24-year-old was in the middle of a push for his second National League MVP trophy in three seasons before the injury. Washington’s grip on its mediocre division is substantial enough that it will likely still make the playoffs and can provide Harper maximum time to heal.
“We’re optimistic that he should be back by the end of the year, yes,” Rizzo said. “We have no timeline whatsoever. We’ll treat it day to day, we’ll treat it cautiously. We put ourselves in a position that we can treat it cautiously and we’ll continue down that road.”
Outfielder Michael A. Taylor was activated Sunday. Harper was placed on the 10-day disabled list. He is the latest in a string of injuries to Washington outfielders. The Nationals have used 12 already. All three opening day outfielders — Jayson Werth, Adam Eaton and Harper — are now on the disabled list. Werth has not played since June 4 because of a foot contusion. Eaton tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee April 29. Harper’s Saturday night tumble made onlookers think back to Eaton’s injury.
A byproduct of the injury is analysis of how Major League Baseball, and the Nationals before the All-Star break, handle rain delays. Friday night’s game was postponed following an almost-three-hour delay and rescheduled as a split day-night doubleheader Sunday. That put significant pressure on the league, which handled the decisions this weekend, to play Saturday night since San Francisco is a West-Coast-based opponent which would not be returning this season. The first pitch Saturday night was thrown at 10:06. A light rain continued to fall and the first base bag was wet. Harper was injured shortly after.
“I think the integrity of the game is you should play 162 games,” Rizzo said. “That’s just my personal feeling. Every decision we make, MLB, the players’ association, and this organization is with the players’ well-being in mind and we’ll continue to do that.”
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