Considering the potential diagnoses that were brought up, and eventually ruled out, Will Harris was thrilled that he was reinstated from the Injured List by Washington’s Nationals last night, in time for the start of the club’s three-game series with Atlanta’s Braves in the nation’s capital.
“I mean, definitely,” Harris said in a Zoom call with reporters on Tuesday afternoon.
“From where I was 30 days ago or 35 days ago till now, it’s definitely a 180. Yeah, like I said, I can’t be more excited than to be activated on May 4th and on a first place Nationals team ready to go out there and play the Braves, the team who won this division last year. So I’m excited, and like I said, I just want to do my part, pull my weight, throw my innings, and be a positive influence on this team.”
Harris, 36, and in the second year of the 3-year/$24M free agent deal he signed with the Nationals in January of 2020, was originally diagnosed with a blood clot in his right arm.
Further testing ruled that out, however, and other potential explanations for the inflammation in his right hand when he throws were considered, and as of now there’s been no diagnosis of what’s causing the issue, but he’s prepared to deal with it and return to the mound.
“We’ve had conversations about that,” manager Davey Martinez explained, “and he said it’s something that he’s, honestly, over the last week or two he really has worked through it.
“And he feels like he’s ready. He feels like he can get through it. I’ve watched a couple of his bullpen sessions and he’s thrown the ball really well. So, we’re going to get him out there and we’ll see how it goes.”
Harris was working out at the team’s Alternate Training site in Virginia until that broke up as the minor league season began this week, so it was a choice between a rehab assignment if they felt it was needed, or a return to the majors.
“There’s not much more he can do now in Fredericksburg or in Triple-A,” Martinez said.
“Now he needs to get back in there and help us win games. He understands that and that’s what he wants to do, so we’re excited about that.”
“I think if you’re pitching in sim games at the alternate site, you’re throwing games, you’re throwing innings, 15-25 pitches, it gets to the point where I can continue to do this, or I could go do this in a Washington Nationals uniform in a big league game. It’s like — at what point is there — where I’m kind of not making any gains basically,” Harris said.
“There’s a lot of difference in pitching in a major league game than there is pitching in an alternate site sim game, right? So once you kind of feel like you’ve gotten that part down where I’m not hurting, and I’m not getting super-sore and my legs feel good.
“There is no next step other than let’s rip the band-aid off and let’s start pitching in big league games and get back into a routine that I’m accustomed to doing.
“There was kind of like no checklist other than I threw three sim games, how many of these are good? It’s kind of on me to decide that. And I felt good coming out of the last one and that was kind of it, you know.”
Harris posted a 3.06 ERA, a 4.55 FIP, nine walks, and 21 Ks in 20 games and 17 2⁄3 innings of work in 2020’s 60-game campaign, while he dealt with a groin injury, and the Nationals were hoping to have a healthy righty at the back of their bullpen this season before the inflammation issues cropped up in Spring Training.
“I’m excited that he’s back,” Martinez reiterated. “We signed him last year to pitch in high-leverage situations for us, because his stuff really plays, and he’s got really good stuff. Watching him the other day throw a bullpen, his stuff was coming out, and I was excited about that, and like I said, based on our conversations, he wants to be back. And he said he’s ready to be back, so that’s all I needed to hear.”
It was a long time off for the nine-year veteran, but he started working his way back as soon as he was cleared to start throwing again.
“I guess since I got kind of cleared of the blood clot thing, it’s just been a matter of trying to get where I felt like I was ready to pitch in games again,” Harris said.
“So just trying to stay active, really didn’t take any days off at all, just trying to get my body in shape, my arm in shape, and that was kind of it. I wasn’t sure where I was going to start from, taking that amount of time off I took in March, and surprisingly I kind of felt pretty good once I started throwing again and was able to get to where I think I’m ready to pitch in games now today.
“So I’m excited to be back.”
But there’s still no diagnosis. And it’s still the case that Harris is not quite sure what the issue is.
“It’s kind of the case in all of our minds, not just mine,” he said.
“As everybody knows, medicine is a process of elimination deal, and so we’re still working down the list and obviously putting a line through the really serious things, and early on that wasn’t the case, obviously with getting the false positive with the blood clot was not good news, but now that we’ve kind of moved past all that stuff, now we’re still working on possible different medications and therapies and things like that that maybe I can do to relieve some of my symptoms. I have good days and I have bad days, so still trying to kind of get a grasp on it, and it’s not for a lack of effort by me or anybody else.”
All things considered, and with some questions remaining, Harris said he is just happy to be back on the mound doing what he loves, especially after he thought for a while that he might not get back at it for a long time.
“Yeah, I definitely didn’t think that I would be pitching on May 4th getting that diagnosis,” he said of the initial fear of a blood clot. “That was something that was kind of looking like maybe a pretty large chunk of the season, if not the whole season, so yeah, it was definitely a little bit of highs, and then no blood clot, but then maybe still could — we’re in that serious realm of possibly Thoracic outlet [syndrome], and then finally getting the clearance of that, and then being able to — ‘Okay, I’m not going to injure myself any more, I’m not in any serious danger,’ so I could start baseball activities.
“And yeah, so that was about a month process of throwing, and throwing bullpens, and throwing sim games at our alternate site, so yeah, that was kind of it.”
On Tuesday night, Harris made his 2021 debut with a scoreless inning in the eighth, working around an error and a walk in a 23-pitch, 13-strike frame.
“He looked good. He really did. I haven’t looked at some of those balls — he thought some of those balls hit the bottom of the strike zone, but I thought he looked really, really good.
“It was good to get him back out there.”
“He did well, he was excited to be back out there, and I was excited to see him out there.
“Like I said, he threw the ball really, really well. His cutter was really, really sharp, and he threw it up in the zone, and threw some down that were really good.”