Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper crashed into the left field wall at Dodger Stadium on May 13 after chasing down a fly ball off the bat of Los Angeles Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis. With blood streaking down the young outfielder's neck, he was removed from the game.
Harper hit the wall exceptionally hard. So hard, in fact, that Denard Span needed to rush over from center field to pick up the ball as Harper lay there on his back. The cut on his chin was so severe that he needed 11 stitches.
In the process, Harper jammed his shoulder, bruised his neck and hurt his knee. Who would have thought that the knee, which was initially diagnosed as a one- or two-day injury, would be what has kept Harper out since June 1?
Harper finally hit the disabled list on June 1, nearly three weeks after his run-in with the left field wall. Lingering pains in his knee were the culprit, but it's hard to believe that it took Harper this long to say "enough is enough."
There's no doubt that Harper felt pain in his knee prior to June 1 (and enough pain to send him to the DL), yet he continued to try and play. Had he gone on the DL sooner, he may already be back at full strength for the offensively challenged Nationals.
In the nine games Harper was able to play in after hurting his knee, he hit just .226—this after manager Davey Johnson told ESPN that "Bryce is going to be all right."
Harper should have told the Nationals about the extent of his pains sooner. Waiting until June 1 was irresponsible and something that he'll need to learn from moving forward. Admitting pain in a 162-game season is not a sign of weakness, it's a sign of maturity in admitting that there's a problem.
Harper's poor play over that nine-game stretch (and absence in the surrounding games before he hit the DL) likely won't be the cause of the Nationals potentially missing the postseason. That being said, there were wins that the team could have picked up that could have influenced Washington's standing in October.
Placing Harper on the DL a few days after the injury (but retroactive to the date of the injury) could have done two things for Washington.
For one, the Nationals would not have had to deal with his .226 batting average. A replacement from the minors could have been brought up and given the Nationals much more energy as a healthy player. Roger Bernadina has started the games that Harper has missed, so the call-up (in this case Jeff Kobernus) has simply been asked to play the role of fourth outfielder.
Secondly, the Nationals could have had a healthy Harper back much sooner. If he were placed on the DL retroactive to May 13, then he could have been back and in full swing by now (exactly a month later).
Instead, Harper has suffered a setback that has him on track for the end of June. That setback included a trip to Dr. James Andrews' office to further investigate the extent of the injury. Much to the joy of the Nationals' front office, Andrews concluded that there were no major issues.
Hindsight is 20-20, but Harper should have spoken up about his knee. He knew how hard he hit the wall, and any (and all) pains stemming from the incident should have been brought to the attention of the team's trainers and coaching staff.
Harper still has a lot to learn as a young player in this league. Here's to hoping that he'll never make this same mistake again.