Harper feels knee injury will linger all season, expects to keep playing

The violent collision between Bryce Harper and the right field wall at Dodger Stadium won’t just affect Harper in the short-term. It seems it will pose at least somewhat of a problem for the reigning National League Rookie of the Year throughout the remainder of this season.

Harper has been held out of the starting lineup in four of the Nationals’ last 12 games, and he was pulled from today’s game for a pinch runner in the seventh inning after aggravating his bruised left knee in the first.

While Harper dealt with discomfort in his head, neck, back and shoulder in the days after the wall collision in Los Angeles, it’s the knee that has continued to bug him lately. Based on what he’s feeling and what he’s heard from doctors, Harper expects to be battling the knee injury for the rest of the season.

“I probably won’t get better until the offseason,” Harper said. “So I’ll just have to deal with the pain and try to keep in there every day and we’ll see what happens.”

Harper aggravated his bruised left knee early in today’s 6-1 win over the Phillies, landing hard on the knee twice when sliding head-first into second and third base in the first inning. During a third-inning at-bat, Harper fouled a ball off his ailing knee - “the icing on the cake,” Harper called it - and after striking out, he flipped his bat to the ground in frustration. He spent the rest of the game moving gingerly and could be seen bending over at the waist in pain more than a few times.

Manager Davey Johnson said he expects Harper to need a couple of days off, but Harper wants to play through the injury. Harper clearly isn’t moving at anywhere close to full speed, but in his mind, the time off wouldn’t really do him much good.

“I mean, I could rest it for four days, feel better and then go out there and slide and bang it up again and then back to square one,” Harper said.

Johnson would like to see Harper adjust his approach when on the basepaths in an effort to decrease his chances of injuring the knee further.

“If he quit headfirst sliding, he’d be a lot better off,” Johnson said. “He’s needs to slide and hit his ass instead of his knees.”

Harper’s response?

“I mean, I don’t know the difference between sliding head-first and sliding feet-first,” he said. “I’ve always slid head-first and there’s some times that I slide feet-first. Just depends on the situation and which way I want to slide to the bag. If I slid feet-first right now, my knee might pop and not be good.

“I mean, I’m gonna feel it either way. It doesn’t matter. I mean, if I slide feet-first or slide head-first, I don’t think that’s gonna help it.”

Because Harper tucks his left leg when he slides, he feels sliding feet-first won’t make things much better. He’s still banging his knee into the ground when going feet-first into the bag. If Harper tucked his right leg when he slid, it’d be a different story, “but I don’t know how to do that,” he said.

Harper said he sometimes feels the knee when pushing off his backside when in the batter’s box, but he mostly feels it when on the basepaths and tracking balls in the outfield.

“It’s more the running part and having that fear of sliding and banging it up,” Harper said. “But I don’t really play with fear.”

Trainers might try and talk with Harper during a game to see how he’s feeling, but he wants no part of that.

“I just tell them to go away from me,” Harper said. “I don’t want to talk to them during the game. If I have a problem, I’ll go to Skip. If I don’t, then I’m not going to talk to anybody about it.”

Even if Harper is hurting, he’s still a presence in the Nationals’ lineup. He’s tied for third in the National League in home runs, is tied for the Nats’ team lead in RBIs with 23 and leads the team in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.

But that’s a large part of the reason why this injury is so concerning to the Nationals. The fact that Harper is still leading them in nearly every offensive category of consequence while at far less than full strength speaks to how big a part of their lineup he is, and how badly they need him.

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