Bryce Harper underwent surgery Tuesday to repair a torn ligament in his left thumb, and Nationals manager Matt Williams received his first chance to address it before his team's series opener at Minute Maid Park in Houston.
Williams isn't sure exactly when Harper will be back, but had only positive news to report about the procedure.
"It's hard to tell how much time (he'll miss), but it was successful, doctor reporting that everything went fine and we got a little message from Bryce about getting back to having BP post-surgery," Williams said. "So yeah, it went fine and so we'll have to see how long that takes. The 6-8 week time schedule is out there. We expect him to heal fast. He's young and given his history, he's healed pretty fast. So we're optimistic about it, but unsure at this point how long exactly it will take."
Harper tweeted a picture of himself after the surgery, giving a thumbs up to Nats fans.
On the road to recovery..Everything went great and I'll be back soon! Thank you to all the fans for the support! pic.twitter.com/66Wn7sxHQ9— Bryce Harper (@Bharper3407) April 29, 2014
But the Nats will likely be without their star left fielder until July. Harper was batting .289 with seven extra-base hits and nine RBIs in 22 games.
"It hurts a lot," Williams said. "He's a fantastic player and we'll certainly miss him, but we've got to step up and play well. At this point, he's going to be out an extended period and we'll just have to wait and win our games."
Harper suffered the injury sliding head-first into third base on a triple Friday against the Padres. Even though that's how it happened, Williams isn't sure he'd call head-first slides dangerous.
"It's hard to tell. Guys are more comfortable one way or the other," Williams said. "We look at Bryce, he had a collision at second base sliding feet-first this year. So he hurt himself last year sliding feet-first. It's something that you certainly can't control The play that he hurt himself on, he was trying to get to third base as quickly as he could. I don't know if he's safe if he slides feet-first. He was safe sliding head-first, but unfortunately he got his thumb in the wrong position."
Williams won't legislate how players slide because he doesn't feel it's his call.
"You can't, you can't," he said. "Certainly we don't want guys sliding into first. It's just slower to do that. We love them to run through the bag at first. But playing the game, you can't legislate, you can't. You can't say, 'Well, we're going to do it this way and you have to do it this way,' because there are situations where the ball may be in your way and you're trying to get around the guy and you have to slide head-first. So it's unfortunate that he hurt his thumb and it's unfortunate when anybody does, but they have to play the game the way they know how to play the game."
At age 21 and in his third season, Harper is already a two-time All-Star and was named the 2012 National League Rookie of the Year. He is batting .273 with 43 homers, 54 doubles and 126 RBIs in 279 games. But this will mark the second consecutive season that he misses significant time because of injury. He was limited to 118 games a year ago.
Williams likes where Harper is in his career even though he now endures yet another extended pause.
"He's had some tough luck so far, but he's also very young and I think he's right on track to be the player that he wants to be," Williams said. "This is a little hiccup in the process and you certainly don't want to see it happen, hope it doesn't happen. But sometimes it does and he'll be a fantastic player and this hiccup will just be a part of it."
Also Tuesday, the Nats optioned struggling starter Taylor Jordan to Triple-A Syracuse and called up reliever Ryan Mattheus.
Jordan, 25, is 0-3 with a 5.61 ERA with just one quality start in five outings, and none since his season debut on April 6.
Williams explained the Nats could afford to make such a move with Jordan not pitching well, right-hander Doug Fister nearing a return and off-days allowing for the team to expand the bullpen.
"With the off-days, certainly with Doug coming back - that is, if all goes well, insert him into the rotation," Williams said. "So Taylor really got hurt by elevating the baseball, so we want him to work on that. And given the off-days and given the way that we hope Doug's coming back, we felt it important to add an extra bullpen guy and work out that rotation as we go.
"Anybody that does the math understands that Doug could be ready for (May 7), potentially (May 9). And that's kind of the time frame that we're looking at as well. He's got to go through his last rehab start, though, and feel good about it. So that's where we stand right now."
Fister has already made one rehab start, allowing three unearned runs in four innings for Single-A Potomac on Sunday. He is expected to next pitch for Double-A Harrisburg on Friday, and if all goes well, his following start could be for the Nationals.
Lower on the pecking order of news Tuesday is that Williams went with Jayson Werth at designated hitter for the first game at Houston. Nate McLouth is in right field with Kevin Frandsen in left.
That isn't necessarily the alignment Williams plans to use for both games of the brief two-game series.
"With a lefty going tomorrow, we may switch it up. But for today anyway, he's played a lot and it gives him a chance to get off his legs a little bit and just hit for us," Williams said. "But the lefty is going tomorrow, so we may switch it up again."