Since immediately after he injured his left knee and left calf in horrific fashion slipping on a wet first base bag and tumbling head over heels back on August 12th in the nation’s capital, Bryce Harper was clear that he wanted to be sure he was back to full strength before stepping back on the field again in a game.
“I want to be at 100% as I go out there,” Harper told reporters in D.C. after receiving a diagnosis of a significant bone bruise in his left knee, which was hyperextended, and a left calf strain.
“I’ve played through injury before and I’m not going to do that anymore in my career,” the 24-year-old “veteran” said.
“Of course, if we were in the playoffs right now, I’d tape it up and get out there and hobble the best I could.”
As he added, however, the Nationals were running away with the NL East at the time, on the way to clinching the division early, so there was no need to rush things.
“We have a pretty sufficient lead in August. Of course that doesn’t mean anything until you get there, so I mean, but it does help out the fact that I can sit on it a little bit and let it heal and let it rest and get to where I need to be.”
Six weeks later, with under a week left in the regular season, the Nationals reinstated Harper from the Disabled List this afternoon, a day later than expected because of the flu-like symptoms he woke up with yesterday, but in time for him to play as many of the remaining six games on the regular season schedule before he returns to the postseason for a fourth October run.
Dusty Baker told reporters this weekend, after Harper took part in a second simulated game, that the 2010 No. 1 overall pick was close, but they were going to continue with a cautious approach.
“He’s close. He’s very close,” Baker said. “We just have to talk to him and get a true evaluation of how he feels. And ‘true’ is the key word, because we know how he’s chomping at the bit to come back, we’re chomping at the bit to have him back, but like I said, we have to do what’s best for him and us in the long-run as well.”
Harper told reporters on Saturday that he felt he was ready to go, acknowledging that there is always a risk, but saying he was ready to test it after weeks of rehab work.
“Yeah, I mean if something’s going to blow, it’s going to blow,” Harper said, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman. “I’ve always said that. I’m just going to play as hard as I can, like I do, and go from there.”
The flu-like symptoms kept him out for one more day, but Baker said last night that he hoped Harper could get back in there tonight.
“There’s a possibility,” he explained.
“We just have to see how he feels tomorrow, because you hate to waste these days, but you also at the same time hate to push him out there when he’s not ready, and so hopefully it was just an overnight thing and he’ll be hopefully ready tomorrow.”
Now, 41 games after he was first injured, Harper is back in the Nationals’ lineup tonight.
Harper returns in time for the second of three with the Phillies in Citizens Bank Park, where he has a .296/.361/.627 line, five doubles, three triples, and 12 home runs in 38 games and 158 plate appearances in his career.
Welcome back, Bryce.