THURSDAY: In the latest twist on this story, Janes reports that Rizzo held a sit-down with Harper, manager Dusty Baker, and trainer Paul Lessard in order to determine whether there was something he was not aware of. Per the report, Harper denied that he was dealing with any injury and Lessard said he had not treated Harper in the shoulder/neck area since he sat out a handful of games earlier this year. Further, says Janes, Harper stated that he had not told Verducci anything to the contrary.
Janes wisely sought out agent Scott Boras for comment on the matter, given his high-profile involvement in the health-related situations of several other major clients. But Boras declined to comment in this case, citing HIPAA laws. That federal health information protection statute obviously does not forbid disclosure or discussion of medical information where consent is obtained from the individual in question.
The report suggests that the Nationals genuinely do not know where the reports are coming from and still have no reason to believe that Harper is dealing with a shoulder injury. As Janes notes, Rizzo’s statements on the matter seem to indicate that he is relying upon what the club’s star is telling him. “Rizzo has effectively tied his own credibility to Harper’s,” she writes, “a strong statement of trust in the 23-year-old’s honesty.”
TUESDAY: Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated reported for a second time today that reigning National League MVP Bryce Harper is playing through a shoulder injury that is severely hampering his ability to perform at the plate, and, as Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post writes, the Nationals have once again vehemently denied that Harper is playing through a notable injury. Verducci reported similar news last month, prompting GM Mike Rizzo to call the report inaccurate. Harper, Janes notes, wouldn’t confirm or deny the report when approached today and simply refused to comment on it entirely.
Verducci cites “a source close to Harper” in writing that at the peak of the issue, Harper was scarcely able to throw the ball 40 feet and points out that Harper was playing abnormally shallow in right field this past weekend. According to Verducci, Harper has been playing through the issue since early July, and the SI scribe quotes manager Dusty Baker stating “the shoulder thing” has been bothering Harper. Baker, however, adamantly insisted to Janes that he was misrepresented in the column and was referencing the previous neck injury that cost Harper five games in August when he spoke to Verducci this past weekend.
“That’s totally inaccurate,” said the Nationals’ skipper. “I don’t know where they got that from. … Bryce said it didn’t come from him. Nobody really knows where it comes from because it’s not on the injury report. The trainer said no. We treated that shoulder already in the past. If I did make a mistake it was because it’s in his neck, which is connected to his shoulder.” Baker conceded that at the time Harper was held out of the lineup for those five games, his throwing was hindered. But Baker also insisted that Harper is healthy and able to throw right now, pointing to the fact that Braves third base coach Bo Porter held several runners at third this weekend rather than testing Harper’s typically strong arm.
Nationals GM Mike Rizzo, meanwhile, once again stated to Janes that Harper is healthy and added that he checked with Harper himself in light of the report and was told that there’s no issue. Said Rizzo: “I just talked to the player again because of the new stuff that came out, and he says it’s the 4-5 days he had with the neck. That’s it.”
Whether there’s an injury at play or Harper’s productivity is simply lacking due to mechanics or another reason, the drop-off in 2016 has been notable. Harper slugged his way to MVP honors last season when he hit .330/.460/.649 with 42 homers, and he carried an OPS north of 1.000 as deep into the 2016 season as May 22. That’s an admittedly arbitrary endpoint, but Harper is hitting a pedestrian .235/.343/.398 in 96 games since that time. While his patience at the plate is eminently visible — he’s walked in at least 13 percent of his plate appearances each month the 2016 season — he’s showing a fraction of his previous power. Since the All-Star break, just 8.5 percent of Harper’s fly balls have left the yard. That’s a significant drop-off from the 18.6 percent mark he posted in the first half, and it’s a precipitous drop from the staggering 27.3 percent HR/FB rate he posted in 2015.
Verducci’s column breaks down the various ways in which a shoulder and/or neck injury could be impacting Harper’s swing at the plate, whereas Janes’ column has further quotes on the matter and further analysis of comments from Baker and Rizzo. Those looking for a greater level of detail on the reported injury and the team’s denial of said ailment are encouraged to check out both pieces in their entirety.