ATLANTA - Bryce Harper was originally written into the Nationals lineup as their leadoff hitter and center fielder. That has since changed.
Harper has been scratched from today's lineup due to a bruised left triceps, suffered last night when he was hit by a 91 mph fastball from Braves left-hander Luis Avilan. Harper had a bandage on the triceps after last night's game, and while he intended to start today, that won't end up happening.
Manager Davey Johnson went to Harper at around 2:30 this afternoon and asked him whether he would be able to play tonight after getting hit by two pitches last night. Harper told Johnson he was fine.
" 'Yeah, I can catch, pitch, do whatever you want,' " Johnson recalls Harper saying. "And then he goes down and hits in the cage and says to me, 'I can't get it loose. I can't get my arm loose.' He's a late scratch."
This adds yet another layer to what sure seems like a budding rivalry between the Nats and Braves.
Harper was drilled on the thigh by a first-pitch fastball from Braves starter Julio Teheran less than two weeks ago, just a few innings after homering off Teheran. Both benches cleared when Harper pointed at the Atlanta right-hander and started shouting at him.
Then last night, Harper was hit by an Alex Wood curveball in the fourth inning (a plunking that Harper laughed off while on first base chatting with the Braves' Freddie Freeman) as well as an Avilan fastball in the eighth. The Avilan heater caught Harper high in the triceps and looked initially like it was very close to hitting his helmet.
Nationals players and coaches all jumped up to the top step of the dugout and started shouting out towards the field, but that was the extent of the fallout at that time. Home plate umpire Marty Foster warned both benches and the rest of the game proceeded without incident.
That doesn't mean the Nationals won't get payback today, however.
"I never order a pitcher to go after anybody. But we have a way of protecting our own," Johnson said.
"But I can't imagine, I can't focus why he got hit (by Teheran a week and a half ago). When you have a big lead, that's not something you want to instigate. Certainly in a close ballgame (last night), he got hit with a curveball. I don't think anything about that. But then they got their best left-handed reliever in there and our best hitter coming up (in Jayson Werth). That's not a situation where you want to hit a guy. For what?
"So it's total ignorance or being wild. I'm not sure which it is at this point."
The Nationals' frustration on this topic comes from a number of different angles. They are irritated (that might be putting it nicely) that their star outfielder keeps getting drilled, intentionally or not. They don't like that the Avilan pitch got Harper up high and so close to his head, a no-no in baseball circles. They're also not happy that the circumstances after the plunkings have left them at a bit of a disadvantage due to the umpires issuing warnings.
Warnings were issued to both teams immediately after the benches cleared at Nats Park two weeks ago, and they were issued immediately after Avilan hit Harper last night. Not only does that affect the Nats' ability to retaliate (doing so would lead to an ejection and likely suspension), but it can prevent Nats pitchers from being able to work the inner half of the plate as much as they might like.
"I'm a little frustrated in that we had a bunch of close ballgames and we're trying to catch them and after it happens, we keep getting another warning," Johnson said. "It kinda puts a damper on things."
The fact that Harper will now need to miss a game because of one of the plunkings frustrates the Nationals, as well.
"Yeah, I'm not happy with it," Johnson said. "I know everybody in that room is not happy with it. You turn the page. We've got a game to play tonight and I'm going to worry about beating them tonight."
Johnson said that he doesn't expect the umpires to issue warnings before first pitch tonight. If they don't, we'll see how long it takes for the next chapter of this series of incidents to unfold.