NEW YORK - The scene - Bryce Harper getting hit by a pitch on his left foot, taking a few steps toward first base and then retreating to the dugout before a Nationals trainer could even emerge to check on him - looked bad, not only to the casual observer watching the game but to the man who suddenly had to find a replacement for his star slugger.
“Yeah, I was really worried,” manager Davey Martinez admitted.
Once the Nationals’ 3-0 loss to the Yankees was complete, though, Harper - who also was hit in the elbow in his previous plate appearance - walked into Martinez’s office and assuaged whatever fears the skipper initially had.
“I’m fine,” the right fielder said. “The elbow feels OK, and the big toe just hurts a little bit.”
This was the most physically painful game of the season for Harper, who despite reaching base four times for the first time since April 15 paid the price for it. He walked in each of his first two plate appearances against CC Sabathia, then took a first-pitch Sabathia fastball off his right elbow in the top of the fifth before taking an 0-2 Dellin Betances slider off his left big toe in the eighth.
“Bad day at the plate,” said Tanner Roark, who took the loss after allowing three runs in six innings, two coming on solo homers by Didi Gregorius. “He got walked twice and then got hit twice. It’s a tough day at the plate, but he’s a tough guy. And I’m sure he’ll be back out there tomorrow.”
That’s the plan. Harper said he already got an X-ray of his toe and, “I’m fine.” And Martinez insisted the slugger will be in Wednesday night’s lineup: “He’s in there.”
It was another painful night at the plate for the Nationals as a whole, a group that has now been shut out in back-to-back games for the 12th time in club history, first since April 2016. That it happened on the day Daniel Murphy made his long-awaited season debut and Adam Eaton made only his second appearance in the lineup since early April added to the frustration.
Murphy hardly looked like the guy who batted .334 over the last two seasons in a Washington uniform, going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in his first big league game since microfracture surgery on his right knee in October. But a little rustiness was to be expected after an eight-month layoff.
“His timing could have been a little off,” Martinez said. “But I know he’s going to hit. So we get him back and see how he feels tomorrow, and then we’ll go from there. But he’s going to be fine.”
“I mean, it’s huge,” Harper said of the return of both Eaton and Murphy in recent days. “Whenever you get your table-setter back at the top of the lineup and get Murphy back going, that’s big for us. So just got to get some at-bats, get some games underneath themselves and get right where they need to be.”
Eaton and Murphy may need some time to get comfortable at the plate, but the Nationals can’t afford to wait much longer for that to happen. At the very least, they need those who already are healthy to start hitting to their career norms.
This was the 18th time this season the Nationals have been held to five or fewer hits, the sixth time it has happened in their last 10 games.
That has put significant pressure on the pitching staff to be near-perfect. And on nights like this, that was too tall a task.
“It happens,” said Roark, who has received only 3.4 runs per start of offensive support this season. “I stay optimistic. I’m not going to let it get to me. I’m just going to pitch my game, and give it all that I can until I’m out of the game. Stay optimistic. Once you let the bad thoughts creep in your head, it all goes downhill from there. Continue to work hard and trust it. Have faith.”