Dusty Baker acknowledged what seemed obvious after Bryce Harper played two games in Philadelphia then sat out of the series finale with soreness.
Harper returned to the lineup in Friday’s matchup with the Pittsburgh Pirates, but it doesn’t seem likely he will play a full nine innings before the end of the regular season.
"‘Is there time for him to play nine?’" Baker asked rhetorically, as quoted by MLB.com’s Jamal Collier on Friday. "Realistically, when do I play him nine?"
He added that he planned to play Harper six or seven innings on Friday night and then see how he reacted.
Harper ended up going seven innings before he was replaced in right field by Andrew Stevenson. He went 0 for 4 with two Ks and a double play grounder while he was still out there in what ended up a 6-1 win over the Pirates.
Harper’s now 1 for 10 with a walk and four Ks in three games since he came off six weeks on the DL after suffering a significant bone bruise and calf strain in his left leg slipping on a wet first base bag in Nationals Park on August 12th.
Baker acknowledged earlier this week that Harper’s timing still isn’t quite there, but said there’s time to get locked in over the next week, with two more regular season games and four days off before the start of the NLDS.
“We’ve just go to get Harper some more reps so he can get sharp,” Baker said on Friday night, “but he did play seven innings tonight, which is a big plus.”
As he’s said previously, the four days off between Sunday’s finale and the start of the NLDS might actually help Harper in the end.
“Most teams don’t like that time off,” Baker said, “... but each day that goes by gives him another chance to get his timing and his rhythm. He did see a lot of pitches tonight, they pitched him tough tonight, and Harp is going to get it.
“And if he doesn’t get it right away, we’ve got to pick up the slack until he does get it.”
So as they try to get the 24-year-old slugger up to speed, will he play in the next two with the Pirates to get as many at bats as possible?
“I don’t know,” Baker said. “We’ve got to see how he feels tonight. It’s on a day-to-day basis. And if he came out of tonight not being sore — I mean, we’d certainly like to, and he needs to, but if he can’t then we’ll deal with that when we get there.”