Manager Matt Williams says Bryce Harper suffered only a "mild" hamstring strain during what appeared to everyone inside Nationals Park to be a serious left leg injury sustained on a freak play in right field during Thursday night's 5-3 loss to the Rays, offering up some cautious optimism about the 22-year-old MVP candidate.
"We'll see how he is tomorrow," Williams said. "It's mild, but he strained it a little bit."
Harper left the crowd of 29,242 at Nationals Park, not to mention his teammates, holding their collective breath when he crumpled to the ground and grabbed his left leg in obvious pain after slipping while making a wild throw to the plate during the top of the sixth inning.
Scooping up Asdrubal Cabrera's 1-out single, he prepared to fire toward the plate in an attempt to throw out Tampa Bay's Logan Forsythe. Harper's leg, though, gave out as he planted to make the throw on outfield grass that remained wet following a 17-minute rain delay two innings earlier. The throw sailed 40 feet wide of the intended target, landing in the third-base dugout as Harper fell to the ground in pain.
"It was really slippery out there with the rain, and my right knee gave out and then I put all my pressure on my left knee and got my hamstring, lower hamstring and the knee a little bit," Harper said. "But, I mean, it didn't feel very good. I was in pretty good pain. A little scared at the same time, because I could feel a little bit more on the lower half of it. But I'll see how I am tomorrow and go from there."
Williams and head athletic trainer Lee Kuntz rushed from the dugout to check on Harper while the crowd sat hushed. After several minutes, Harper got back up on his feet and eventually walked off the field under his own power, though with a noticeable limp.
Harper had surgery on his left knee following the 2013 season to remove a bursa sac that had plagued him for most of the summer. Given the history, he was admittedly worried when the play first happened, though he felt more encouraged after meeting with team doctors.
"You know, I've had problems with my left knee before," he said. "I've had surgery on it. So it was definitely really scary. It didn't feel all that great when I was laying there. So, pretty scary. But talked to the doc a little bit, get what he thought and then see how it felt. Very happy with what it feels like."
Harper said after the game he hadn't undergone an MRI yet.
"It's not to that point," he said. "If it still feels pretty terrible tomorrow or the next day, then we'll take that. But we're just gonna see how it feels tomorrow, see how it feels the next day and go from there."
After battling significant injuries each of the last two seasons, Harper had made it through the 2 1/2 months of this campaign missing only two games (each time after getting hit by a pitch). Healthy for the first time in a long time, he has produced huge offensive numbers, leaving Thursday's game with 22 homers, 53 RBI, a .344 batting average and MLB-leading .476 on-base percentage, .720 slugging percentage and 1.197 OPS.
For a Nationals club that currently has veterans Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman on the disabled list, with Denard Span and Anthony Rendon having missed the beginning of the season due to injury, the loss of Harper for any length of time would be a devastating blow.
"It's time to step up," Williams said. "Everybody. We look forward to doing that tomorrow."