Defending N.L. MVP and Washington Nationals’ outfielder Bryce Harper has been dealing with a “neck” injury the past few days, originally described by the team as something he might have sustained while sleeping.
According to a story on Friday by Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated, the problem goes back much longer and much deeper, perhaps as much as two months.
In the story, Verducci explains that Harper “has been playing through a right shoulder injury for the past two months, according to a source close to the team.”
The injury affects the area at the top and back of his shoulder and at the base of his neck. Harper has been receiving treatment for the injury, the source said, including cupping therapy and Active Release Technique.
Obviously, this didn’t happen while he was sleeping, is more than just a “crick in the neck,” and it explains why Harper has been struggling so much the past few months to generate power.
Before Friday’s game, manager Dusty Baker discussed Harper’s injury, presumably before Verducci’s report came out.
“Right now I don’t have any status on [his neck],” Baker said. “It’s day to day and anybody that’s had any kind of stiff neck, a crick in their neck, whatever you want to call it, a spasm in the neck area, it kind of lets you go when it wants to let you go.”
Team beat reporters caught up with GM Mike Rizzo before the game and Rizzo disavowed the long-term nature of the injury.
Rizzo said he just checked with Harper, and that reports of a pre-existing shoulder injury are inaccurate.— Chelsea Janes (@chelsea_janes) August 12, 2016
Rizzo denies SI report: 'Tom Verducci is wrong.'— Chase Hughes (@chasehughesCSN) August 12, 2016
But Verducci is one of the most respected, best sourced national baseball writers. His source (presumably more than one) says it’s more than a crick or spasm. The team knows the story is out there, and now the public does, too.
As Verducci notes, Harper’s percentage of soft-hit balls is a career worst and his batting average on balls in play is a pathetic .237, fourth-worst among qualifiers, including the now-retired Prince Fielder.
Through April, Harper looked like he would repeat his history-making 2015 season, batting .286/.406/.714 with nine homers and 24 RBIs in his first 23 games. Since May 1, he’s hit .219/.365/.362 with 11 homers in the subsequent 82 games — a far cry from his MVP numbers.
And it’s been ever worse more recently. Since July 1, he’s hit .179/.299/.311 with four homers in 29 games. He’s getting worse, not better. And if it’s the injury that limiting him, both he and the team would be better off shutting him down for a period to see if he can get healthy for the stretch.
Actually, screw the stretch. The Nats have a big lead in the division with no one getting hot behind them. They need Harper to be “Bryce Harper” for the playoffs, and if he needs to be shut down until Oct. 1 to regain any semblance of the guy that produced eye-popping numbers in 2015, the Nats should make it so.