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Nationals Top 5 Offseason Storylines: Bryce Harper's Knee; Surgery?

With the 2013 season officially over, we took 24 hours to "decompress", but now we're right back at it with the storylines that will dominate the winter and the lead-up to the 2014 campaign. No.5 on the list?: Will 20-year-old slugger Bryce Harper need surgery on his knee?

Kevin C. Cox

On April 30, 2013, Bryce Harper leapt into the right field wall/scoreboard in Turner Field in attempt to bring Atlanta Braves' starter Tim Hudson's fly to right off lefty reliever Zach Duke back into the park. Harper collided hard with the wall, hard enough that the ball went into his glove and popped out again upon impact, going into the stands for a home run.

"I think a rest -- the offseason will do him fine and he'll work out extremely hard like he always does, and come to spring training healthy and ready to contribute." - Mike Rizzo on 106.7 the FAN In D.C.

Two weeks later in LA, the Washington Nationals' 20-year-old slugger ran face-first into the right field fence/scoreboard in Dodger Stadium while tracking an A.J. Ellis' fly to right. Harper knocked himself out of the game that time, but he pinch hit two days later, and three days after the brutal run-in with the wall which left him dazed and bleeding from a cut on his neck, Harper was back in the lineup.

Before he finally went on the DL in late May, Harper had a .183/.315/.350 line with a double and three home runs over 19 games and 75 plate appearances after the first impact in Atlanta.

After the initial diagnosis said Harper had bursitis in his left knee, Nationals' team physician, Dr. Weimi Douoguih, told reporters, including the Washington Times' Amanda Comak that the "worst-case scenario" with the young star's knee was, "... that it swells up and then it would need to be drained, or even have that sac surgically removed," but the Nats and Harper wanted to avoid surgery so they shut him down.

Toward the end of the 2013 campaign, after Harper returned from a lengthy DL stint and a trip to Dr. James Andrews, who administered a PRP injection and a cortisone shot, the Nats' 2010 no.1 overall pick admitted in an interview with CSN Washington's Mark Zuckerman that he had been playing in pain since the first incident:

"Ever since I hit the wall, pretty much every day I feel something different. Or something will feel better, and then something else hurts. It’s pretty much just the left side of my body. That’s what hurts me right now. Everything on the right side of my body feels great. If the right side of my body felt like the left side of my body, I’d probably just say: Screw it. But the last time I probably felt pretty good was that first month.".

After Harper's hustle was questioned on a groundout to second in a late August game against the New York Mets, Nats' skipper Davey Johnson told reporters he thought his outfielder might still be playing through a lingering issue with his left knee. As Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore quoted Johnson explaining, he thought surgery might still be an option for Harper after the season ended.

"'That was talked about a while back,'" Johnson explained, "That’s a definite option. It’s going to be up to Bryce and [medical director Dr. Wiemi Douoguih.]'"

In the days that followed those comments, it was revealed that Harper was also playing through a left hip issue. Harper left the team in the second week of September and returned to the nation's capital for an MRI which revealed no structural damage. Harper missed five days but returned to lineup on September 11th in New York and finished out the season.

After a .270/.340/.477, 26 double, three triple, 22 HR, +4.5 fWAR rookie campaign in which he played 139 games, made 597 plate appearances and earned the NL Rookie of the Year award, Harper put up a .274/.368/.486 line in his second pro season, hitting 24 doubles, three triples and 20 HRs in 118 games and 497 PAs over which he was worth +3.8 fWAR. Before the season ended, Nats' GM Mike Rizzo was asked on 106.7 the FAN in D.C's The Mike Rizzo Show with Holden Kushner and Danny Rouhier whether or not Harper would have to have surgery on his knee this winter.

"We don't think so," Rizzo told the show's hosts. "We'll certainly have him checked out after the season ends. I think a rest -- the offseason will do him fine and he'll work out extremely hard like he always does, and come to spring training healthy and ready to contribute. One hundred and sixty-two [games] is his goal, to play every day and be a force in the middle of the lineup and I think he'll achieve that goal."

Harper told the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore this weekend that he didn't think he would need surgery either:

"'I really don’t see that,' Harper said. 'It’s more trying to take the time off and let everything settle down. Everything is just swollen and things like that. I really don’t see going under the knife or anything like that.'"

Some well-deserved rest. A few months to work out and prepare for the 2014 campaign. The acquired wisdom of learning what you can and can't play through. Another season of development as an outfielder. Some time to figure out what left-handers (who held Harper to a .214/.327/.321 line as opposed to his .300/.388/.560 line vs RHP) were able to do to him this season and react. The Nationals need Harper at 100% when the 2014 campaign begins next Spring. Preparing for his third major league season will be a whole lot easier if Harper can avoid going under the knife.

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