Bryce Harper is struggling again and it appears his injury woes are worse than he and the Washington Nationals initially let on.
Back in August, Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci reported that Harper had a right shoulder injury. The Nationals were swift to deny it, though, with general manager Mike Rizzo saying Harper was just dealing with a stiff neck.
In what’s been an up-and-down season for Harper, the last portion has certainly been on the down side – Harper’s OPS in 16 September games is .613 and he’s raised eyebrows with his defensive positioning – and Verducci reported Tuesday in Sports Illustrated that the shoulder injury remains an issue:
“At one point he could barely throw the ball 40 feet,” said one source close to Harper. Over the weekend, Harper played so curiously shallow in right field that Baker had to ask him about it. (Baker kept Harper’s answer private.)
Nationals manager Dusty Baker also told Verducci that Harper’s play of late isn’t just a simple slump:
The Nationals and Harper have been tight-lipped about his condition. But last Saturday, Baker admitted to me “the shoulder thing” has bothered the reigning NL MVP.
The biggest reason the Nationals and Harper aren’t being completely upfront about the injury is because in sports it’s often dismissed as excuse-making, instead of being seen as a logical explanation as to why a player who was the unanimous National League MVP in 2015 has looked so ordinary at times this season. His power is way down and he’s never made consistently softer contact. Those very much sound like they could be the product of an injured shoulder.
If Washington is going to challenge the favored Chicago Cubs for the NL pennant they need a healthy and productive Harper in the lineup. Harper has been the latter only sometimes in 2016 and it doesn’t look like he is the former right now.