Sep 9, 2013, 6:00 AM EDT
At this point, the question isn’t whether Bryce Harper is injured. It’s how seriously he’s injured.
Which leads to the inevitable quandary: Should he play anymore this season for the Nationals?
Harper, of course, wouldn’t even dignify that question with a response if presented the opportunity. He always believes he can — and should — play, no matter how banged up he might be at any given moment.
He’s also the biggest believer inside the Nationals clubhouse that this team still has a chance to play in October, despite what the standings suggest. Even though the Nats did their part last week, going 4-2 against the Phillies and Marlins, the Reds most certainly didn’t do their part to help the cause, going a staggering 6-1 against the Cardinals and Dodgers, thus extending their lead for the NL’s final Wild Card berth to 8 games with only 20 to play.
Yes, the Pirates (losers of four straight since snapping their 20-year streak of losing seasons and winding up on the cover of Sports Illustrated) now need to be included in this conversation, since they’re tied with Cincinnati. But even if the Nationals go 14-6 to finish the season, Pittsburgh would only need to go 7-13 to keep D.C. out of the playoffs.
So, while mathematically still alive, the Nationals realistically have run out of time in 2013. And while he may not like it, Harper probably should take that into consideration when deciding his best course of action.
First and foremost, team medical director Wiemi Douoguih must diagnose Harper. We still don’t know what exactly is going on his left hip.
But if Harper is suffering from anything that could get worse if he continues to play, or if he’s suffering from anything that is going to need surgical attention at some point (and this includes his still-ailing left knee), the decision should be simple:
Shut him down.
There’s nothing for Harper to prove over the season’s final three weeks. He may not have produced the kind of dominant season we thought he would produce back in April, but he hasn’t exactly been a disappointment, either. Harper falls just a few plate appearances short of qualifying for the league leaderboard, but his .882 OPS would rank 10th in the NL, ahead of Freddie Freeman, Carlos Beltran, Buster Posey and Giancarlo Stanton, to name a few.
By the way, Harper has put up better numbers this season than he did during his historic rookie campaign. And even if he doesn’t get another at-bat this year, he’d still own the 11th-best OPS ever recorded by a big leaguer age 20 or younger.
If Harper is deemed healthy enough to play and not at risk to cause more damage to himself, then by all means, finish out the season.
But for a Nationals organization that has exhibited so much caution with the health of other young players, the safer move certainly would be to tell Harper to hang up his spikes for 2013 and start getting himself 100 percent for 2014.
NL EAST STANDINGS
FRI: Nats at Reds, 7:10 p.m.
SAT: Nats at Reds, 4:05 p.m.
SUN: Nats at Reds, 1:10 p.m.
MON: Nats at Marlins, 7:10 p.m.
TUE: Nats at Marlins, 7:10 p.m.
WED: Nats at Marlins, 12:40 p.m.
Full season schedule
ON THE RADIO
As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2014 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 1:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.
*All times Eastern. You can also listen to the station on 94.3 FM, 92.7 FM and online at ESPN980.com. Click here for past audio clips.
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