WASHINGTON -- Bryce Harper admitted he feared the worst. His mind raced and his season flashed before his eyes in a combination of shock and pain as he grabbed his left knee in agony after he fell violently to the ground upon making contact with a wet first-base bag -- "it felt like I slipped in the shower," he said -- in the first inning of Saturday night's 3-1 Nationals victory.
Harper was carried off the field by team athletic trainers, but once he got to the dugout steps leading toward the clubhouse, he told the training staff to go away. It was time to see if he could walk or if he would again crumple to the ground. Those steps, that slow walk up more stairs into the clubhouse, helped assure Harper that he had avoided his worst fears.
And an MRI on Harper's left knee Sunday reveled why the Nationals felt they "dodged a bullet" when Harper was found to have a significant bone bruise but no ligament or tendon damage. There is no timetable for his return; however, Harper is expected to return this season.
"Of course you're going to think the worst and I'm one of the worst at it," Harper said in between games of Sunday's split doubleheader. "I think I'm going to die every time I have a stomachache."
The Nationals officially placed Harper on the 10-day disabled list with a hyperextended left knee and reinstated Michael A. Taylor in a corresponding move. Additionally, catcher Pedro Severino was added to the Nationals' roster from Triple-A Syracuse as the 26th man for Sunday's doubleheader.
Harper will not require crutches as he recovers and walked around Sunday with just a slight limp. It was an encouraging sight for the Nationals considering the events less than 24 hours prior.
Initially, general manager Mike Rizzo also feared the worst when he saw Harper lying on the ground in agony, as did the fans who waited out a 3:01 rain delay Saturday night as Nationals Park fell silent. That included manager Dusty Baker, who walked up the first-base line with his hands on his head after he came out to check on Harper. Harper acknowledged he thought about two teammates, Adam Eaton and Wilson Ramos, who tore their ACLs on the field here at Nationals Park.
The field had been soaked during the lengthy rain delay and suffered through thunderstorms that postponed Friday's game, and although Rizzo and Harper acknowledged the bases likely being slippery, neither took issue with the field conditions.
"I don't think anything can change," Harper said. "It's just part of the game."
"I think the conditions aided in it, but the bases are hard, slick at times," Rizzo said. "And you've got a hustling player just trying to play the game. Harp plays it, as we've said it before, 100 mph with his hair on fire. That's the way he's going to play it throughout his career and you can't fault a player for going hard all the time."
Because his fall was so violent, Harper worried about the rest of his body, but the doctors found no damage in his ribs, hips, legs or anywhere other than his knee. Fortunately for the Nationals, Harper seems to have avoided the worst-case scenario, which team doctors told Rizzo is a testament to Harper's athleticism, flexibility and youth.
"There is no ligament or tendon damage, which is pretty remarkable in my mind, just seeing the type of injury he had," Rizzo said. "We feel we've dodged a bullet a bit here."
Washington did not offer a timeline for Harper's return, but considering the team's commanding 14 1/2-game lead entering Sunday in the National League East, the Nationals are in position to handle Harper with caution. The regular season ends seven weeks from Sunday and the Nationals have aspirations of a deep postseason run with Harper as a major part of it. He also acknowledged his recovery time will hinge on how he feels, waiting until he makes a full recovery.
"I want to be 100 percent whenever I play," Harper said. "The World Series is definitely on my mind, the playoffs, things like that. But one award is on my mind as well."
That would be the NL Most Valuable Player Award and Harper had put himself in position to be one of the favorites to win it with an explosive bounceback season. He is hitting .326/.419/.614 with 29 home runs and a 1.034 OPS and has been worth 5.0 Wins Above Replacement, according to Fangraphs.
So for now, the Nationals are going to have to get by without Harper, who joins a lengthy list of players on the disabled list. Washington's entire Opening Day starting outfield is currently sidelined in center fielder Eaton and left fielder Jayson Werth (foot). The Nats have used 12 players in the outfield this season and Rizzo said he is comfortable with what the team has in the organization and will not need to acquire additional outfield help.
Werth could begin a Minor League rehab assignment soon, and shortstop Trea Turner could return in the next few weeks to provide a boost. For now, the return of Taylor, who has been out since July 6 with a strained oblique, will help. Taylor posted an .831 OPS with 12 home runs and 10 stolen bases in 72 games this season and has been a strong replacement in center field since Eaton was lost for the season in April. Taylor played in 12 games during a Minor League rehab assignment and found out late Saturday night that he had a flight scheduled early in the morning for Washington.
But once again the Nationals will have to get by for now without a key member of their club. This time it is their leading MVP candidate, but they are hoping they can have him fresh and ready to go down the stretch for the postseason.
"I think in this scenario we all have to think positive, that these guys will be back like the cavalry right on time," Baker said. "From watching all the war movies and cowboy movies, I believe in the cavalry."
Fantasy spin | Fred Zinkie (@FredZinkieMLB)
This injury serves as a tough blow for Harper owners, who should drop the 24-year-old in virtually every redraft format. But the loss aside, those who selected Harper this past spring can take solace in knowing that the superstar slugger outperformed even some of his loftiest preseason projections across 472 plate appearances. In other words, Harper's numbers to date combined with a waiver-wire pickup's rest-of-season stats should still equate to a first-round pick well spent. Shallow-league Harper owners can check waivers for a replacement such as Josh Bell, Manuel Margot or Taylor. Meanwhile, those in deeper leagues can take a look at Bradley Zimmer, Nick Williams or Jose Pirela.