WASHINGTON — Hope for the best and prepare for the worst: that has been the Washington Nationals’ approach with Bryce Harper’s knee injury from the start.
But now that the calendar flips to September and the MLB postseason starts this time next month, patience is shifting to Plan B in the Nationals’ playbook. Nationals insider Mark Zuckerman tweeted as much this week:
The time crunch is twofold for the Nats, as they want Harper back healthy and are running out of places for him to get minor league rehab starts. If he is “a long way from running,” that could mean weeks away at least.
Monday marks the end of the regular season for the team’s triple-A, double-A and single-A affiliates. The short season Auburn Doubledays end their season on Thursday and the Gulf Coast League Nationals are done Wednesday.
Sure, the Nationals could simulate some game experiences for Harper to return to at the Spring Training facilities in Florida. But if the big league club needs Harper to be in playoff form when he returns, the options are getting increasingly limited.
As for Werth in right field, Nationals fans should breathe easy. He has logged more than 1,000 games and 8,000 innings defensively in right field.
While his arm strength is better suited to left field at this point in his career, he has a career fielding percentage of .987, only one point lower than in left field, spread out over 15 seasons in right field.
Where the team will have a harder time replacing Harper is in the lineup. When he left for the disabled list, Harper was hitting a crisp .326/.419/.614. He has been spelled by the likes of Brian Goodwin, Howie Kendrick and Alejandro De Aza.
Of the group, only Kendrick has put up respectable offensive numbers, but is better suited for a part time role.
How the Nationals handle Harper’s timeline will undoubtedly take each of these factors into consideration as they continue to hope for the best.