WASHINGTON — Nationals GM Mike Rizzo calls the latest report from Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci about Bryce Harper’s shoulder “inaccurate.”
In August, around the time Harper missed five games with what the team was reporting to be “neck stiffness,” Verducci reported Harper had actually been “playing through a right shoulder injury for the past two months.”
Verducci doubled down on Tuesday, reporting Harper continues to battle through an ailing shoulder, quoting a source as saying, “At one point he could barely throw the ball 40 feet.”
Asked about Harper’s shoulder during his weekly 106.7 The Fan appearance with The Sports Junkies on Wednesday, Rizzo said, “We’re saying the same thing that we’ve said for the last month, that he’s healthy, and he is, and we’re moving on with it.”
“There’s really nothing to add to it,” he added. “There’s no shoulder issues, there’s no shoulder problems. He had the neck issue for about five days and we held him out and that’s it.”
Rizzo bristled when asked to directly address Verducci’s report: “I’m saying that the information of him having a shoulder issue is inaccurate. What more can I say? I sat with the player, the trainer, the team physician and the manager in his office and asked the pertinent questions that you would ask a player straight out, like we attack every problem here, and he does not have a shoulder issue.”
In Verducci’s initial report in August, he said Harper had been receiving cupping treatment on his shoulder. To that end, Rizzo said Wednesday, “He gets work on his entire body like he always has, like every other player does. We have two physical therapists, two massage therapists — we’ve got a lot of people that help these players get through the season and he gets no more physical therapy than anybody else, or that he’s ever had.”
When asked to clarify if cupping is a part of that treatment, Rizzo said, “He has cupping treatment on his neck and his shoulder, his hamstrings, his calves, his lower back, so yes.”
As for Harper playing shallow right field in Atlanta over the weekend, Rizzo did not indicate whether that was due to a lack of strength in Harper’s throwing shoulder.
“He plays as shallow a right field as anybody in the league,” he said. “He plays shallow in Atlanta. He plays shallow at home, to take away base hits. He goes back on the ball very well. He plays very, very shallow to take away base hits in front of him because he goes back on the ball so well.”
Junkies co-host Jason Bishop followed up: “So the report that he could barely throw the ball 40 feet; do you have any idea where that came from and how inaccurate is that?”
“It’s inaccurate,” Rizzo said.
On Stephen Strasburg, who’s recovering from a strained flexor mass (elbow): “Stras is playing catch. He’s progressing normally in his return-to-throw program. We take it day by day with our pitchers at this time. Sammy Solis is the same way. We see how they feel each and every day after they have their workout or their throwing session and then we set up a daily plan for them to return to throw, so he’s on schedule.”
Asked to weigh in with his level of confidence that Strasburg could return this season, Rizzo said, “Let me answer that when I see him pitch today, when I see him throw today, because, like I said, yesterday when he left, he felt good, but it’s always the day after you come back is when we have to evaluate and see where the next step in your progression is.”
While the Nationals still have 11 games to play, if the postseason were to start tomorrow, they would face the Dodgers in the NLDS. The Dodgers have struggled mightily against left-handed pitching, hitting .210/.288/.330 as a team.
Against right-handed pitching, the Dodgers slash much better: .263/.329/.438
Gio Gonzalez, Washington’s only left-handed starter, has struggled to find consistency on the mound at points this season. Altogether, he’s 11-10 with a 4.48 ERA and 162 strikeouts.
Asked if LA’s lefty splits could alter how the Nationals approach their postseason rotation, Rizzo acknowledged, “Gio’s struggled at times but he has pitched very well at times.”
“He’s a guy that we’re going to count on in our postseason rotation, I would imagine, and I would imagine he would pitch some time against the Dodgers,” he said. “We haven’t gone over the rotation yet. We’re not going to be that assumptive at this point, but suffice it to say that we’ve got our advanced scouts covering the Dodgers and just about everybody else that we have a chance to play.
“They’re out and about right now doing their advanced work. We’re going to meet with them and we will put together a strategy on how to best attack the Dodgers or whoever else we play in that first round.”
Burke & Herbert Bank Fan Question of the Week: When catchers move side to side depending on the pitch, can batters hear or see this so they’ll know it’s going to be an inside or outside pitch? — Mary in Sterling
“That’s a good question because there’s some strategy employed and there’s some things that catchers and hitters do in that scenario,” Rizzo said.
“You’ll see often times a catcher will set up inside and kind of pound his glove inside so the hitter, who really cannot turn back and look, because that would be a no-no and he probably would get a pitch high and inside if started doing that. The hitter can feel where the catcher is, so that’s why you’ll often see catchers set up one way early in the pitch, while the pitcher’s maybe going into his stretch or his windup, and then shift very quickly after the pitcher is in his delivery.
“So he may tap inside and then go outside, or look outside and then quickly at the end go inside. Hitters try and feel for that; they really can’t see it, but in their peripheral vision they see movement back there and it’s part of that mind game that the pitcher, catcher play against the hitter. It’s a good question and it’s really one of the nuances of baseball strategy.”