Bryce Harper is back in the Nationals’ lineup for today’s series finale against the Reds, a development that was very much uncertain when the star outfielder left the ballpark Saturday night with a barking right knee.
Harper was hit by a pitch square on the kneecap during the bottom of the sixth inning of the Nats’ 6-2 win over Cincinnati. He remained in the game and did take his position in right field to begin the top of the seventh but then was removed after laboring to track down a leadoff double by Mason Williams.
After the game, manager Davey Martinez told Harper to text him in the morning and let him know how he felt. Harper replied, saying that though he was still “a little bit sore,” he still felt well enough to play.
Martinez’s follow-up text: “Can you play center?”
Harper’s response: “Absolutely.”
So the 25-year-old slugger is not only batting cleanup this afternoon against right-hander Luis Castillo but also manning the middle of the outfield, where he’ll likely have to put his knee to the test.
Harper may not be 100 percent out of the woods yet, but Martinez was relieved when he got the news this morning.
“Huge relief,” the manager said. “That doesn’t tickle. I got hit there before. He must be a little bit tougher than I am, cause I limped to first base and came out of the game.”
The Harper hit-by-pitch, plus Spencer Kieboom’s later plunking, led to a tense moment in the top of the eighth when Ryan Madson drilled Joey Votto in the leg with a first-pitch fastball, prompting the Reds All-Star to start jawing at Madson and later first baseman Matt Adams. Umpires issued warnings to both dugouts, sensing the growing tension.
Votto, as it turns out, is not in Cincinnati’s lineup today. Interim manager Jim Riggleman, though, said it wasn’t a result of getting hit by the pitch but rather the fact Votto has been playing a lot lately and had just started both ends of a doubleheader, with a day game to follow.
Update: Harper is making a difference in the lineup already today. He delivered a two-out, opposite-field, RBI double in the bottom of the third, bringing home Adam Eaton and helping the Nats open up a 2-0 lead on the Reds. Yet another example of Harper looking like a very different hitter in recent weeks, one who is getting a lot of production out of balls hit to left field for the first time in a long time.
The Nationals got their first run via a bit of a surprise: a Matt Wieters second-deck homer to right. Yes, that was Wieters’ first homer since late April, and this one was crushed.
Tanner Roark, meanwhile, has turned into a different pitcher in recent weeks. And he’s back at it again today, tossing three scoreless innings on 30 pitches to get his outing started.
Update II: Roark finally got into a jam in the top of the fourth, but to his credit he limited the damage in impressive fashion. After loading the bases with nobody out, he allowed an RBI single to Mason Williams but then recorded three straight outs and didn’t let anybody else advance. Add a 1-2-3 top of the fifth, and Roark continues to excel. He has allowed one run in five innings on 61 pitches. The Nats still lead 2-1 and wouldn’t mind an insurance run or two sometime soon.