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Bryce Harper, Davey Johnson differ on return timing

Jun 22, 2013, 10:20 PM EDT

Bryce Harper Getty Getty Images

Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper, recovering from bursitis in his left knee, thinks that beginning his rehab assignment with Class-A Potomac on Tuesday is a day or two too early. Via MLB.com’s Tom Schad:

“Tuesday, that’s kind of early,” Harper said. “I’m thinking Wednesday or Thursday maybe. I’m not sure. We’ll see how I feel. If I feel good, then I’ll go play. If I feel something isn’t right, then I’m not going to go play. It depends on how I’m feeling.”

Manager Davey Johnson wants to get Harper back in action sooner rather than later.

“When a player starts playing, it’s really up to me, what I think they need. Not up to the player,” Johnson said. “I’m always trying to do what’s best for the player. But at the same time, it’s my job to know when they’re ready and when they’re not.

“He’s probably worried about timing and everything being letter perfect. All that changes if you’re in Potomac. You may never get your timing there because it’s a whole new ballgame there, guys don’t have command as well as they do up here, and there’s a big variation in how they pitch to guys.”

Schad also writes that Harper wants to play in six or seven rehab games before rejoining his teammates in Washington.

It is refreshing to see a player, particularly one as young as Harper (20), err on the side of caution. Too often, we see players come back too early from an injury or choose to play through the pain. In fact, Angel Pagan recently refused surgery to fix his injured hamstring and only exacerbated the problem.

  1. flamethrower101 - Jun 22, 2013 at 10:24 PM

    Seems to me like there’s clear tension in the Nationals organization. Rarely you see a manager and player disagree like this. Normally it’s the manager erring on the side of caution rather than the player, and this after the Nats were hell bent on shutting Stephen Strasburg down last year during their playoff run for fear of future injury. It just doesn’t make sense to me. Did I miss something?

    • daveeproc - Jun 22, 2013 at 10:30 PM

      See my reply below. It has little to do with the injury and more to do with things like regaining timing and being ready to return in that sense. In that way, Davey knows more than Harper. Guys don’t need a week in Single-A. That’s not going to help.

      • flamethrower101 - Jun 22, 2013 at 10:34 PM

        Fair enough. But this isn’t the first time the Nats have been questioned about injury-handling: Strasburg last year, Danny Espinosa this year (seriously, was no one on the Nats medical staff thinking on this one? OK, wanting to play through his torn rotator cuff is one thing but there was no way that plus a fractured wrist were going to help him produce.)

      • daveeproc - Jun 22, 2013 at 10:36 PM

        Well (flamethrower), the Nationals medical staff probably wanted Danny Espinosa to get it fixed. They can’t force him to. They let him try to play through it because he said he could, but he obviously could not. So they put him on the DL. He still did not want to get the surgery to get it fixed, so they sent him to AAA. They’re doing everything in their power to make him get it fixed, but beyond his demotion to AAA, what else can they do? He keeps insisting he can play with it, despite his atrocious numbers.

      • flamethrower101 - Jun 22, 2013 at 10:43 PM

        I’m assuming Espinosa kept the broken wrist to himself, because I sincerely doubt that a medical staff is so incompetent they would simply let him play through it had they known about it. My contention is that even if they didn’t know about it, they could’ve asked him “Hey, are you feeling OK?”. All they needed to do was look at his numbers. They were dreadful. He’s better than that. Hopefully he can get himself fixed.

        I apologize if I sound like a cynic here. But the recent string of injury-handlings by the Nats has me a little suspicious.

  2. daveeproc - Jun 22, 2013 at 10:28 PM

    Before people hop on this, understand what is being said. Harper and Johnson differ on when Harper will start the rehab assignment by maybe one or two days. That’s not the issue here.

    The issue is that Harper said he wants 6 or 7 days on a rehab assignment. That is excessive. I’m not aware of any position player, really, taking that many days. He’s never been on the DL. Harper has publicly said his concern is regaining his timing. Like Davey said, he may never regain his timing at Single-A.

    The issue is the length of the rehab assignment and how soon to get Harper back, but it has little to do with the actual injury. That’s why Davey is saying he tends to know.

    Davey has publicly said he will not put Harper back on the field until he’s ready. There’s no reason to think that’s not the case. I feared when I first heard of this earlier that it would turn into a faux-controversy. I hope people read the comments and understand what the point of contention actually is.

    • flamethrower101 - Jun 22, 2013 at 10:39 PM

      Your explanation clarified a lot of things for me, so I commend you for that. That all said, I still have my skepticism, especially with the questions surrounding Nats injuries recently. Danny Espinosa has played through a torn rotator cuff and a broken wrist. At the very least, someone on the bench could’ve noticed something wasn’t right because he was dreadful when he played. Then there was the infamous Strasburg controversy but I’ll save that for another time. Then there’s this knee injury.

      Harper contends that he should’ve been placed on the DL the night he crashed into the Dodgers right field wall, the Nats disagree. I don’t really like it when player and team are on different pages with injuries. That can often spell potential trouble. Hopefully this turns out to be just nothing, but I’ll keep my skepticism until I’m proven wrong.

      • daveeproc - Jun 22, 2013 at 10:48 PM

        I won’t disagree that the Nationals have mishandled injuries, but it’s not necessarily because players disagree. The Nationals, reportedly, want Danny Espinosa to get his problems fixed. Espinosa keeps saying he’s fine. When it was painfully obvious that he was not getting better, they put him on the DL and then demoted him to AAA as an incentive to get it fixed (or learn to play with it, if he can do so as he says).

        Davey is known as being a manager who treats his players like men. He once remarked about the 1986 Mets “I don’t give a flying f**k what they do as long as they win on the field.” He doesn’t micromanage, and as such, he relies on players to be truthful to him.

        When Harper says he should have been placed on the DL that night, he’s not saying that management kept him off the DL at the time. Harper meant (and later explained in the same, full quote) that he himself wanted to keep himself on the field because the offense was struggling and he was hitting well. It was his decision to stay off the DL. If he said he thought he needed to be on the DL, he’d have gone on the DL. He said he could play through it, so Davey obliged him.

        Now this raises the question, should management be keeping players from harming themselves? It’s hard to say. Every player deals with injuries. Some can play through them, some are more severe. I think with a younger team like this Nationals team, it may be more necessary to not trust a guy to know his body so well and intervene. On a veteran team, Davey’s approach may work better.

        Regardless, now that Bryce has made clear his intentions, I would be shocked to see him rushed back before he is ready. Why? Because Bryce himself has said he won’t come back until he’s ready and management defers to the players on these matters, like I said.

  3. 13arod - Jun 22, 2013 at 10:35 PM

    I know that sometimes you have to play through an injury sometimes but it is a knee injury I think it will get worse if he plays now

  4. TheNaturalMevs - Jun 22, 2013 at 11:04 PM

    WEAK take Bill Baer.

    For a guy who sells the world on molding his game after Mickey Mantle, being a historian of the game of baseball; I mean is he aware that a lot of the guys out there busting it every night are sore?

    He has really greatly changed my opinion of him. His manager’s quotes are very telling. Johnson thinks he should be out there already. I thought winning a world series meant everything to harper? The Nationals are dead in the water in maybe another week or ten days. They’re fighting every night to keep their season alive, winning games they shouldn’t and barely gutting them out. How could anyone who proclaims they are ‘no guts, no glory’ just sit back at leisure and tweet about dates while lobbying for all-star game votes on twitter when his teammates are out there doing that? Seriously here.

    What a fraud… the dude said he would be the type of player who would do anything to be in the lineup. He’s not. That was a lie. Mantle played on one leg his entire career. I’ve gone from being convinced Harper is the embodiment of the game to realizing he is nothing more than a social media superstar who sells us on his image and brand and then does the opposite. He’s probably listening to Boras to look out for #1 for that next big contract in Yankee pinstripes.

    Wait until the Bronx media and their fan base get a whiff of this.

  5. DelawarePhilliesFan - Jun 22, 2013 at 11:05 PM

    “I will keep playing this game hard for the rest of my life even if it kills me! I’ll never stop!” – May 2013

    “If I feel something isn’t right, then I’m not going to go play. It depends on how I’m feeling” – June 2013

    • TheNaturalMevs - Jun 22, 2013 at 11:13 PM

      Yea I can see it now… He’s going to use this as a built in excuse if he doesn’t play well the rest of the season. It will be a big exclusive off season interview. And he will also say this is how the Nats organization fell out of favor with him and made him start considering the Yankees again…

      He’s a spoiled rotten brat kid, doesn’t know anything about the world because he’s 20 years old. He is probably sitting on Scott Boras’ lap right now with a pacifier in his mouth that is made of gold. Watching Boras and A-Rod shoot exotic cheetahs and then play with their blood because they’re so rich.

      Lace them up you sally.

    • natslady - Jun 22, 2013 at 11:39 PM

      I hear you, Delaware. And all the commenters. But I feel there’s a simpler explanation.

      The Kid is 20. This is the first time his body and his hard-a## playing style have betrayed him (beyond a little snag last year). He’s lost confidence–to wit, “Harvey… would kill me…” if I played now.

      Davey is older and wiser. He knows (a) you don’t face Matt Harvey at Potomac so rehabbing–however many games–ain’t gonna help you regain your batting eye; and (b) when Harper gets back on a baseball field his muscle-memory and his competitive juices will kick back in.

      As much as Harper resists being compared to RG3, he IS compared to RG3 in this city, knee to knee. Bryce needs to remember he is a different player in a different sport and go about his business. Stop with the public comments. Just say, “if they put me in the lineup in Potomac, I’m there.” No one needs to know the discussions or evaluations, that is needless controversy. Play baseball.

  6. wheels579 - Jun 22, 2013 at 11:15 PM

    It’s not really up to Davey until Harper is activated. That decision lies with Rizzo. Davey is under pressure to win without a contract extension. Those with the job security will win out and Davey should concern himself with the players available instead of countering Harper’s perfectly reasonable comments. Or Davey could be gone before Harper returns.

    • TheNaturalMevs - Jun 22, 2013 at 11:19 PM

      Get a clue, Wheels. Davey is retiring after this season and they’re not firing a guy considered a legend in the middle of the season. They’ll let him go out on his own terms. But thanks for bringing a ‘C+ level’ understanding of things to the discussion.

  7. wheels579 - Jun 22, 2013 at 11:26 PM

    Davey isn’t considered a legend in DC, has no years left on his contract and is managing an underachieving team considered a favorite to win the NL pennant. If you don’t think his seat is getting hot, you’re not paying attention.

    • natslady - Jun 22, 2013 at 11:47 PM

      Davey’s seat is warm(er). But how DAVEY keeps Haren from giving up home runs–and games–is a mystery to every fan. Davey might have been too loyal to Espinosa for too long but most people here know that the .500 season is not on Davey or even on Rizzo. It’s partly injuries and mostly THE PLAYERS.

    • goskinsvt - Jun 23, 2013 at 12:09 AM

      lol are you seriously suggesting that the Nats would fire Johnson the year after their first every playoff berth (and division title) in his stated ‘last year ever’? Are you an insane person?

      • TheNaturalMevs - Jun 23, 2013 at 12:40 AM

        Yeah, Wheels once again get a clue. They aren’t firing Davey Johnson no matter how bad it gets. Not a chance.

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