That collective exhale you hear coming from the east is the entire Washington Nationals fan base breathing a sigh of relief upon hearing the news that Bryce Harper’s knee is still intact. Harper took a nasty fall Saturday night at Nationals Park running out an awkward ground ball to first base. The rain had been a problem on all night, the same way it had been a problem the night before.
The Giants didn’t have plans to come back to Washington, so after the rainout on Friday night, and despite steady rainfall throughout the day on Saturday, MLB officials decided they were getting the game on Saturday night. They didn’t care about the inherent risk. In hindsight, it’s safe to say a mistake was made.
Harper’s agent Scott Boras spoke to the media on Sunday after the injury.
We go to great lengths with the soil to make sure it's not wet and there are drying agents on the ground.
I don't know what technology we apply or the studies that have been done on the composition of having a wet base. That's certainly something we need to look into. This injury was directly related to inclement weather and a player putting his cleat on the bag and it slipping across because the surface was slick.
In the NBA, when a player hits the floor and there's perspiration on the floor, they clean it up immediately so the surface isn't slick. In baseball, we have no one cleaning the bags between innings during inclement weather. Is there observation as the game goes where they would stop and make sure the bag is dry? We don't do that. We don't take measures like that for player safety that could easily be accomplished by the grounds crew and the umpires' observations.
The fall out
For the Nationals, losing Harper to an ACL tear would have been a disaster. Nationals GM Mike Rizzo noted that he felt his team “dodged a major bullet.” Rizzo also made note that although the injury here is the best-case scenario, the freak accident still left a serious injury. "The bone bruise, it's real,'' Rizzo said. “It's an injury, and we're going to have to treat it accordingly.'' Harper, 24, is in the midst of one of the best years of his brilliant young career, and he was the odds on favorite to win his second NL MVP award. Heading into Saturday’s game he was fourth in the NL in batting average and OBP, second in slugging percentage, third in wRC+, and tied for eighth in walk rate.
The Nationals will be forced to test life without Harper. Although something they don’t want to consider, they really should. Harper is coming up on free agency after 2018, and according to the vibe across baseball, Harper will be playing elsewhere and for a record breaking contract.
Overall, the Nationals have plenty to be thankful for. Harper can hopefully be back and sharp come the playoffs, and there is no rush because they currently hold a comfortable 14 game lead in the division. Although their outfield depth is being tested, there is some silver lining - Jayson Werth is returning from a broken toe soon, the recently acquired Howie Kendrick is playing well since his move from Philly and the breakout performance of Brian Goodwin has anchored the outfield when the Nationals have needed it most. Of course, none of those names can come close to filling Harper’s shoes, but what the Nationals can lean on is the fact that none of them will have to for long. Baseball needs its best stars playing when the stage becomes biggest, and when the lights shine brightest. Losing Harper would have been a loss for all of baseball, luckily he should make a return just in time to face Kershaw in October – when the stage doesn’t get any bigger.
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