SI.com’s Tom Verducci wrote last month that a source told him Washington Nationals’ slugger Bryce Harper, who missed time with what the team described as a neck issue (spasms, stiffness), had, “... been playing through a right shoulder injury for the past two months,” at that point:
“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.”
GM Mike Rizzo addressed the report directly when he spoke to reporters on the field in Nationals Park later that day.
"The report is inaccurate," Rizzo said, as quoted by CSN Mid-Atlantic writer Chase Hughes.
"Tom Verducci is wrong. I just asked Bryce Harper and the training staff and our medical staff. He hasn't had a right shoulder injury. He's got a stiff neck."
Harper remained out of the lineup for a few days, but Nats’ skipper Dusty Baker told reporters that he too thought the reports were inaccurate.
“He’s being analyzed by our people and it is what is, what I told you. I mean, I’ve heard all kind of reports, I think people are — I think it’s kind of careless, reporting when you’re reporting something that’s not even true.
“It’s not his arm. If it was I would have told you by now. And so, it is indeed he has a spasm in his neck and sometimes you have to wait until it lets you go.”
Baker said the Nationals, and Harper, were doing all they could to, “try to alleviate this problem.”
Harper missed five games, but avoided a DL stint. He returned to the lineup on August 14th.
Since then, the 23-year-old defending NL MVP is 32 for 119 (.269/.385/.462) with nine doubles, four home runs, 23 walks and 28 Ks in 34 games and 143 PAs.
In 16 games in September, Harper is 9 for 50 (.180/.333/.280) with two doubles, a home run, 12 walks and 16 Ks in 63 PAs.
Baker gave his right fielder the night off on Monday in the series opener in Miami, telling reporters, including MASN’s Byron Kerr that he saw Harper’s concentration waning.
“Everything is fine. I could see his concentration waning some so I thought I’d give him a mental day off. I wasn’t going to give it to him tomorrow against [Jose] Fernandez.
“I wasn’t going to give it to him the next day because he’s had pretty good success against [Tom Koehler]. I wanted to give [Chris] Heisey some at-bats in there too. So everything just pointed towards today.”
Early this afternoon, however, Verducci published another story on the Nationals in general, and mentioned Harper, in particular, once again discussing Harper’s struggles at the plate.
Quoting Baker in the article, Verducci wrote that the manager said he had faith that Harper would turn things around.
“He’ll figure it out. He won’t admit it, but his balance is off,” Baker is quoted explaining.
While suggesting that Harper is likely to “fall into a hot streak,” Verducci wrote that, “... that’s only if his troublesome upper right shoulder/neck issue improves and allows him unrestricted passes at the baseball.”
Hmmm... I wonder where the scouting reports say to attack Bryce Harper these days?: pic.twitter.com/0E63YBTIe4— federalbaseball (@federalbaseball) September 18, 2016
Pointing to an August 6th at bat against the Giants in which Harper “doubled over in pain” after fouling off a pitch, Verducci writes that, “[b]y then the injury had already plagued him for about a month,” though, “He has played through the discomfort.”
“The Nationals and Harper have been tight-lipped about his condition,” Verducci notes.
“But last Saturday,” he added, “Baker admitted to me ‘the shoulder thing’ has bothered the reigning NL MVP.”
Verducci goes on to present evidence that supports his case that Harper just isn’t the same hitter he was last year, noting that opposing pitchers are attacking Harper with fastballs away on which he’s having trouble extending and staying balanced, and also pointing to his lack of consistency and decreased exit velocity.
Will there be more denials forthcoming? Will Harper finish strong and make it a non-story? Will we get to the end of the season and learn that he’s been dealing with an issue all along?