Over the last 24 hours, the Philadelphia Phillies have been pretty open about the lower back stiffness that right fielder Bryce Harper has dealt with for at least half of the 2020 season.
Harper did walk three times over Tuesday’s doubleheader games, but went hitless in five at-bats and had multiple headscratching plays in the field in Game 1.
Harper was the DH in Game 2, and afterwards, J.T. Realmuto, playing through an injury of his own, suggested that Harper’s back injury has bothered him for longer than the public has been aware of.
“It’s kind of understood between both of us that if we can play, we’re both gonna play and we’re gonna give the team everything we have,” Realmuto said. “His back has been nagging him for quite some time, and people didn’t even know it really until recently. So he’s been playing through some stuff for a while, but he’s the kind of guy who you know if there’s opportunity for him to be in the lineup, he’s gonna be out there and he’s going to try to help the team.”
So how long, exactly, has Harper been less than 100 percent and when did he initially tweak his lower back?
“I don’t know if there’s one moment, but I do know that it started about four or five weeks ago, if my timeline is correct,” Girardi said before Wednesday’s series finale with the Washington Nationals.
The Phillies have been vague about the severity – or consistency – of Harper’s injury, but Girardi did say on Wednesday that in a normal 162-game season, the Phillies may have shut Harper down for a period of time to allow him to recover.
“Yeah, I think that’s possible,” Girardi acknowledged. “And he’s tried to fight through it, and he has his good days and his not-so-good days. And we talk every day about where he’s at. And we’ve talked about DHing him more, and that sort of thing. The one day, I kind of made him take off. It’s nothing that we believe requires any action except rest, and right now, there’s no time to rest.
“I think he’s had some other days that were pretty bad. It’s hard for me to say today’s the worst, but maybe [it’s as bad now as it’s been.] Maybe yesterday in a sense with the doubleheader.”
Harper’s batting average peaked at .367 on Aug. 18. After the Phillies loss to the New York Mets on Sept. 16, Harper’s average had fallen to .243.
However, the next night, he hit two titanic home runs against the Mets, including a 445-foot home run the hit off the facing of the third deck. A day later, Harper homered and drove in four runs across a doubleheader sweep of the Toronto Blue Jays. It’s hardly surprising to hear that he’s battled an injury in 2020, but he appeared healthy as recently as late last week.
If Harper had recovered from his injury, he re-aggravated it relatively quickly. In Sunday’s loss to the Blue Jays, the 27-year-old exited the game early. He appeared in pain both in the field and at the plate.
The reality is, as the Phillies cling onto hopes of snapping an eight-year postseason drought, Harper isn’t going to be 100 percent. If they sneak into the playoffs, he won’t be at full strength. That Harper is dealing with this as Realmuto battles a hip injury and Rhys Hoskins is out with a UCL injury compounds the problem.
Whether the 2020 season is ultimately lost or not, it’s worth filing away that Harper is dealing with an injury to his lower back, as opposed to virtually any other part of his body. One of the concerns voiced at this outlet when Harper was a free agent was that he may develop back problems as he got older because of the violence he swings with. At 27, no one’s suggesting that Harper won’t be 100 percent on opening day 2021, but for someone under contract for 11 more seasons, this is a concerning development.
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