Another week, another bit of Bryce Harper drama. If anyone out there has Harper fatigue, I guess one way to look at it is that you won’t have to hear much about him for a couple of weeks at the very least.
But if that’s your sentiment, shame on you. For me, it’s always going to be better to get to see Harper play. If that invites an element of “what’s going to happen to him next?” hyperfocus that has been associated with his career from the outset, so what? Sports has loved and will always love its enfant terribles, generation after generation. Nothing Harper has done puts him on the level of, say, John McEnroe or Deion Sanders, but your mileage may vary.
Consider this my taking common cause with a lot of Nationals fans: I’d rather see Harper’s name in the lineup, not just because of what he has done and can do but because of what he might do. That’s the other function of rooting for or against a player you watch grow up in the major leagues. No matter how talented they are, most players aren’t Dwight Gooden or Mike Trout, almost perfect at the outset.
Admittedly, there’s an element of irony that Harper landed on the disabled list for a hustle play, motoring into third base Friday night, just a few days after being benched for not hustling by manager Matt Williams. I’m sure we can start up another long list of complaints about poor fundamentals because he slid headfirst and that’s why he’s on the DL with an injured thumb. None of this is quite as epic as Mickey Mantle’s early-career squabbles with Casey Stengel.
No, dialing back from the entire concept of Harper drama, for the Nationals this is a problem. Even if Harper misses just the two weeks, that’s two weeks without three men from the Nats’ ideal eight-man lineup available, because this is the latest injury to add to a lineup litany that already includes the losses of Ryan Zimmerman and Wilson Ramos until mid-May. Even with Adam LaRoche and Anthony Rendon off to good starts, even with Jayson Werth getting on base, even with fallen former prospect Danny Espinosa redeeming himself in the playing time created in the infield by Zimmerman’s absence, that’s a lot to have to go without. They also lost Denard Span for a week after he suffered a concussion. If there’s good news, it’s that while Doug Fister is on the DL instead of in the rotation, he is ideally due back around the same time as Harper and due to make his first rehab start today.
Meanwhile, for the immediate future, this looks like an opportunity for Nate McLouth to finally start hitting as the Nationals’ initial choice to fill Harper’s shoes in left, although the measure of Williams’ confidence is that he’s penciled McLouth into the eighth slot in Sunday’s lineup. I wouldn’t count on seeing much of Steven Souza, the farmhand called up in Harper’s absence. He’s a toolsy, slow-developing prospect taken in the third round in 2007 who didn’t break out at the plate until 2012 (after going back down to the low-Class A Sally League for a fourth stint), but he put an exclamation point on that breakout last year with a .953 OPS in Double-A and has been hitting in Triple-A this year around his shuttling back and forth between Syracuse.
Christina Kahrl writes about MLB for ESPN. You can follow her on Twitter.