By Chris Lingebach

WASHINGTON — Bryce Harper’s agent says the Nationals right fielder “had an issue that he played through” in 2016.

Scott Boras made the remarks on SiriusXM’s “MLB Network Radio. Though the satellite radio station neither offered the agent’s direct quotes, nor did it make the audio available for non-subscribers, it did offer this tweet on the topic:

Patrick Reddington of Federal Baseball has the full quotes:

“I think that there is a learning curve after success, there is a way that pitchers throw you,” Boras said, according to Reddington. “I think Harp had an issue that he played through with, that he battled with — that was certainly uncomfortable but still allowed him to play.

“But I think there is a learning curve that goes on with a great young hitter and there’s a learning curve that goes on with the league about what they have to do in dealing with the massive amount of walks and in key situations, the pitches that you’re going to get and learning how to extend the strike zone in situations which great hitters know how to do and young hitters have to learn how to do.”

This could help solve the single biggest mystery surrounding Harper’s 2016 season: Was his precipitous drop-off from his 2015 MVP campaign injury related, or worse, just a down year?

Harper missed five games last August with what the team described at the time as a “stiff neck.” Nationals GM and President of Baseball Operations Mike Rizzo adamantly shot down repeated reports — spanning August and September — from SI’s Tom Verducci that, despite the team’s claims, Harper had actually been playing through an undisclosed right shoulder injury.

“There’s no shoulder issues. There’s no shoulder problems,” Rizzo told 106.7 The Fan last September. “He had the neck issue for about five days and we held him out and that’s it.”

A lingering injury of some sort — disclosed by the team or not — would in retrospect actually be the more promising answer, as the alternative would indicate Harper is less capable of matching his Ruthian 2015 numbers. Harper slashed .330/.460/.649 while hitting 42 home runs and driving in 99 runs that season; last year, he slashed .243/.373/.441 with 24 home runs and 86 RBI.

For a 26-game stretch after his return from injury, Harper appeared to have found his stroke, hitting .310 with four home runs and 23 RBI in that span, but he dipped back down to close out the regular season, hitting .180 with no homers and six RBI the rest of the way. It should be noted Harper wasn’t struggling to get on base; he still possessed a .333 OBP through those final 16 games.

Boras also mentioned Harper doesn’t have the benefit of having Albert Pujols hit behind him, as Mike Trout does in Anaheim.

“So I think a lot of it has to do with a learning curve and the fact that in the Nationals’ lineup, there is a potential for a manager to do more, to pitch around Bryce Harper, than I would say in a situation when you have a Albert Pujols hitting behind Mike Trout,” Boras said.

Harper has “the greatest young power I’ve ever seen in the game,” Boras said, adding “and I’ve seen many great young ones, including A-Rod and Griffey and all the others. It’s remarkable.”

Follow @ChrisLingebach and @1067TheFan on Twitter.


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