Harper, who jammed his right thumb on an awkward slide into third base Sunday in Pittsburgh after the Pirates' Jung Ho Kang pretended to tag him even as the ball sailed wide, was dealing with swelling and some pain in the thumb for a few days. An X-ray, revealed no fractures, however, and doctors were confident the injury occurred in a different location than the ligament Harper tore on a similar play in 2014.
After resting a few days, Harper informed Baker he was ready to go, but the Nationals manager didn't want to take a chance, especially given the rainy conditions this week in D.C. Baker also stuck by a longstanding mantra of his when it comes to players returning from injuries.
"If a guy tells me he's ready, if I have a luxury, I like to give them one more day off," the manager said. "I just noticed that a lot of guys say they're ready, and you bring them back and they're really not ready. I would prefer that you be chomping at the bit to get back (instead) of a person to just say that you're ready."
Harper, who reportedly has also been dealing with a lingering right neck and/or shoulder issue for some time, wound up getting a surprise first-hand examination from his manager.
"I went up to him, and I pinched his thumb a couple days ago," Baker said. "And he said: 'Ow, what'd you do that for?' And I said: 'OK, I got my answer.'"
One astute reporter couldn't help but follow-up that question by asking if Baker had done the same thing with Daniel Murphy, who has been out of the lineup nearly two weeks with a strained buttocks muscle.
The manager's response, after some considerable laughter: "I'll pat him on the butt, but I ain't gonna pinch it."
Meanwhile, outfielder Chris Heisey has left the team to be with his wife, who gave birth to the couple's second child. Heisey, who lives near Harrisburg, Pa., is expected to rejoin the club for Saturday's game.
"This team is a baby-making team," Baker quipped, as only he could.