3:42pm: Manager Dusty Baker suggested to reporters, including Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post, that Harper could miss 10 days to two weeks, though he didn’t commit to that as an exact timetable (Twitter link). Regardless, Harper “will be back before the end of the season,” said Baker (via Mark Zuckerman of MASNsports.com, on Twitter).
10:22am: The Nationals have placed star outfielder Bryce Harper on the 10-day DL due to a hyperextended left knee. Nats GM Mike Rizzo told reporters (including (USA Today’s Gabe Lacques and the Washington Post’s Jorge Castillo) that Harper suffered a “significant” bone bruise. Michael A. Taylor has been activated from the DL to take Harper’s spot on the roster.
While Harper’s injury is clearly serious in nature and no timetable was provided for his return, this diagnosis is something of a relief to Harper, the Nats and their fans. “We feel we dodged a bullet,” Rizzo said, noting that Harper didn’t suffer any ligament or structural damage to his knee. Rizzo believes Harper will play again before the season is done, thus making him a factor to contribute in the Nationals’ postseason drive.
The team (and the entire baseball world) feared the worst after Harper suffered the nasty-looking injury last night, having to be helped off the field after slipping while crossing first base while attempting to beat out a ground ball. Bone bruises can vary greatly in severity, so Harper may still miss significant time, though the Nats have enough breathing space atop the NL East to be cautious, Rizzo noted.
The fact that Washington has a 14.5-game division lead and baseball’s third-best record is somewhat remarkable given the number of significant injuries the club has suffered, particularly in the outfield. Adam Eaton suffered a season-ending ACL tear in April, Jayson Werth is still sidelined indefinitely with foot injuries, and Taylor is only just returning after a month on the DL due to a strained oblique. Shortstop Trea Turner could’ve potentially been a candidate to help fill these outfield gaps, though he has been out of action himself thanks to a fractured wrist.
If the Nats are going to be serious World Series contenders, however, obviously they’ll need Harper back in time for October baseball. Harper was in the midst of a superb year, batting .326/.419/.614 with 29 homers over 472 plate appearances, and this injury absence is likely to cost him a chance at his second NL MVP Award in three seasons.
With Harper out, it seems as if Taylor, Brian Goodwin and Howie Kendrick will see much of the action as Washington’s first-choice outfielders, with Adam Lind and Andrew Stevenson providing some left-handed hitting flexibility off the bench. Even this mix of players isn’t quite stable, as Kendrick has been recently bothered by a bad back. It’s possible the Nationals could explore adding more outfield depth in a trade, though they’ll probably wait a week or two to monitor the statuses of Harper and Werth before deciding whether some external help is necessary.