Harper has “significant” bone bruise, may return this season

Bryce Harper suffered a “significant” bone bruise inside his left knee but sustained no ligament or tendon damage, according to Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, who said the starting right fielder could return to play before the end of the season.

That’s a far more encouraging diagnosis than the Nationals initially feared late Saturday night when they watched Harper’s left leg slip on first base, causing his knee to hyperextend before he fell to the ground in pain and had to be helped off the field without putting any weight on his leg.

Bryce-Harper-carried-off-field-sidebar.jpg“The good news is that there’s no ligament or tendon damage, which is pretty remarkable in my mind, just seeing the type of injury that he had,” Rizzo said from the dugout at Nationals Park before today’s doubleheader against the Giants. “There is a significant bone bruise when he hyperextended the knee. So although we feel we’ve dodged a bullet a bit here with any long-term ligament and tendon damage, the bone bruise is something of significance, and we’re going to treat him cautiously and, hopefully, have him back later on this season.”

Rizzo wouldn’t put any timetable on Harper’s rehab and return, stressing the Nationals will be cautious with him, particularly given the 14 1/2-game lead they currently hold in the National League East. The regular season, though, ends seven weeks from today, presenting an obvious target for the club and for Harper to attempt to hit.

“We have no timeline whatsoever,” Rizzo said. “We’ll treat it day-to-day, we’ll treat it cautiously. We put ourselves in a position that we can treat it cautiously, and we’ll continue down that road.”

As bad as the play looked in real time - Harper was trying to beat out a hard grounder to first in the bottom of the first inning of a game that didn’t start until 10:06 p.m. following a 3-hour, 1-minute rain delay - there were some encouraging signs afterward. Harper was walking around the clubhouse after the game ended at 1:17 a.m. with only a slight limp, his knee wrapped but not in a brace, no crutches necessary.

An MRI then revealed the extent of the injury, which Rizzo said was confined to the inner portion of the knee and no other parts of his leg.

The bone bruise occurred, Rizzo said, when the bones inside Harper’s knee collided as a result of the hyperextension. It’s not a typical location for that kind of injury - Jayson Werth has been out for 2 1/2 months with a bone bruise after he fouled a ball off his left foot - but neither is Harper a typical ballplayer.

“The doctors say because of the athleticism, the youth and (the fact that) Harp is extremely flexible in his joints, was something that worked in his favor in this case,” Rizzo said. “Certainly after watching it yesterday live, and then ad nauseam on the sports shows, that it did seem likely that this was going to be a little more significant of an injury than it was. But you always have to wait to see what the films say, to see what the experts say, the medical people.”

The injury occurred after a lengthy delay, and with a light rain still falling throughout the first inning, on a field that had taken on plenty of water in a short period of time. While acknowledging that the slippery base played a role in Harper’s injury, Rizzo stopped short of placing all the blame on the conditions.

“The bases are hard, and they’re often slippery,” he said. “We’ve had people slip when it wasn’t raining out on those bases. I think that the conditions aided in it, but the bases are hard, slick at times, and you’ve got a hustling player just trying to play the game. Harp plays it, as we’ve said before, 100 mph with his hair on fire. That’s the way he’s going to play it throughout his career, and you can’t fault a player for going hard all the time.”

Rizzo also defended the decision - made by Major League Baseball - to play Saturday night’s game at such a late hour and on a wet field, even though it is unlikely to have any significant bearing on the season’s final standings for either team.

“It was a situation last night, no pun intended, a perfect storm,” Rizzo said. “You get the Giants coming in, we got rained out the night before, we had a split doubleheader scheduled for today and a team that’s on the other coast that doesn’t come back any more. MLB controls those games, and the grounds crew did a magnificent job getting the field ready to play. It was something that happened. That’s baseball. We have to roll with that. We’ve been rolling with injuries all season long and still managed to play extremely good baseball. We’re optimistic that we’ll continue to play great baseball, because we think we’ve got a great ballclub here with great depth. Just, the next guy’s got to step up.”

Harper officially was placed on the 10-day disabled list with a hyperextended left knee. Fellow outfielder Michael A. Taylor was activated off the DL after missing 29 games with a right oblique strain. Catcher Pedro Severino also has been promoted from Triple-A Syracuse to serve as the 26th man for today’s day-night doubleheader.

Taylor is not in the lineup for today’s 1:05 p.m. opener, with Brian Goodwin taking Harper’s traditional spot in right field and rookie Andrew Stevenson taking over in center field.

For the moment, the Nationals’ current roster on the DL is loaded with talent: Harper, Werth, Trea Turner (fractured wrist), Stephen Strasburg (nerve impingement in his elbow), Adam Eaton (torn ACL), Joe Ross (torn elbow ligament), Shawn Kelley (trapezius strain), Koda Glover (strained rotator cuff), Stephen Drew (abdominal strain), Enny Romero (forearm strain), Ryan Raburn (trapezius strain).

“We’ve got some significant WAR on the disabled list right now,” Rizzo said, cracking a smile. “And we’re still playing extremely well.”

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