The Washington Nationals were dealt a serious blow Monday afternoon when the team learned that 21-year-old outfielder Bryce Harper needs surgery to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his left hand and could be out until at least early July. The news was first reported by ESPN’s Keith Law.
Harper injured the hand while sliding into third base after a bases loaded triple against the Padres on Friday, but the injury was never expected to be this severe at the time. Harper was day-to-day over the weekend before being placed on the 15-day disabled list with what the team called a “sprained left thumb.” But a second opinion from Cleveland-based hand specialist Thomas Graham likely revealed the tear in his thumb and Harper becomes the latest Nationals’ hitter to be out for an extended amount of time due to a hand injury.
Prior to the injury, Harper was batting .289 with just nine RBIs but appeared to be hitting his stride in recent games. In fact, the outfielder was in the midst of a career night just prior to the injury on Friday, with his bases-clearing triple scoring his fourth RBI of the night.
Harper’s injury comes at a time when the Nationals were finally starting to get healthy, with Doug Fister, Wilson Ramos and Ryan Zimmerman all expected back in the lineup within the next few weeks. Instead, manager Matt Williams will have to manage a lineup led by Jayson Werth and the suddenly productive Adam LaRoche and Danny Espinosa.
While Harper’s injury should not be over dramatized, his spot in the lineup is definitely a major part of the Nationals offense this season and several players will have to step up and produce to help keep Washington in contention. With Harper’s injury, outfielders Nate McLouth and Tyler Moore will likely see a lot of playing time over the next couple of months, though the Nationals will have to find a way to keep Espinosa in the lineup if he is still raking when Zimmerman returns in mid-May.
Today’s news (hopefully) caps a rough month for the Nationals in which three of the team’s four best hitters landed on the disabled list. But while losing Harper hurts, it’s not the end of the world. The Nationals are a talented team even without Harper and still have the right pieces in place to stay in the race, especially with Fister, Zimmerman and Ramos expected to return in the near future.
Nevertheless, the next couple of months just got a lot harder for Williams and the Nationals. But if this team is truly the championship-caliber team we’ve been talking about for months, then they’ll find a way to move on and make it work. And if we’re lucky, the band will be back together just in time for the fireworks on the fourth of July.