Davey Johnson thinks Bryce Harper’s ailing knee might have contributed to last night’s lack of hustle

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After Nationals manager Davey Johnson bowed out of last night’s game due to dehydration, bench coach Randy Knorr took over and quickly made his voice heard. As D.J. Short described earlier, Harper weakly grounded out to Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy. Assuming it was a routine out, Harper hung his head and ran at a light pace. Murphy bobbled the ball but recovered and managed to still throw Harper out by several steps. It’s tough to say if Harper would have beaten it out even if he had been running at max effort, but there was at least a chance.

Knorr was critical of Harper’s lack of effort when speaking to the media after the game. He said, “I don’t think he does it intentionally, but he’s gonna have to start picking it up a little bit.”

Johnson didn’t get a chance to address the situation until today. He is less critical of his outfielder and thinks his nagging knee problem may have been part of the reason for the less-than-100% effort. Via Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post:

Harper still receives treatment on the left knee, which he wears a pad to protect.

“I think it’s still an issue,” Johnson said. “I think it’s probably there. He can probably play with it. But if he headfirst slides or dives in the outfield, it’s probably going to flare up. Hopefully, he’ll get through the season.”

[…]

“My opinion is, you take nothing for granted,” Johnson said. “You hit a groundball, the guy could boot it. You run. Anytime you quit going hard, it’s a losing attitude. With him, I’m between knowing if he’s babying his knee, because he’s usually 100 percent. But I’ll talk to him.”

Harper went on the disabled list and missed 31 games between May 27 and June 30 with bursitis in his left knee. He has been held out of the lineup on several occasions since then to give the knee a rest.

Johnson did say mentioned he noticed Harper not hustling at other times, but not often, saying, “I haven’t seen a lot of it. I’ve seen a little of it.”

Harper, a 20-year-old in his second season in the Majors, has an .892 OPS in 404 trips to the plate.

Game 6: This is why the Astros traded for Justin Verlander

Associated Press
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Houston’s pitching has not been their biggest problem as they’ve watched their 2-0 series lead turn in to a 3-2 series deficit. It has not been good, mind you — Charlie Morton got rocked in Game 3, the bullpen collapsed on Game 4 and Dallas Keuchel was suddenly mortal in Game 5 — but even then it’s not been the biggest concern. The real problem has been the lack of offense.

The Astros led the majors in runs (896), batting average (.282), on-base percentage (.346) and slugging (.478) during the regular season and were second to the Yankees in homers. Despite that, they have scored just nine runs and have hit only one homer. The team’s ALCS batting line, those two wins included, is .147/.234/.213. As such, facing off against Luis Severino and a rested Yankees bullpen tonight can’t give them a ton of confidence.

They do have one thing going for them, however: Justin Verlander. The same Justin Verlander who received only two runs of support in Game 2 of the series but made it hold up thanks to his 124-pitch, 13-strikeout complete game victory. You can’t really expect a starter to do that sort of thing two times in a row, but that’s what the Astros acquired him for at the end of August. In a league where there are vanishingly few horses a team can ride to victory, Verlander stands as one of the few remaining old school aces. Expect A.J. Hinch to keep the bit in Verlander’s mouth for as long as this game is close and, even then, maybe an inning longer.

Is there any reason for optimism regarding the Astros’ lineup? Sure, of course. They didn’t suddenly all forget how to hit. Every team goes through a stretch of 3-5 games where the hits don’t seem to fall. There may, possibly, be some reason for hope in the man they’re facing too. Severino lasted only four innings in Game 2, having been removed early after taking a ground ball off his left wrist. Severino said he was fine and wished that Joe Girardi hadn’t taken him out, but (a) he was acting a little odd, shaking his arm out like he was trying to shake off some pain; and (b) starting pitchers almost always lie and say they’re better than they are. I’m certain Severino is healthy enough to go, but there’s at least a small chance that he’s vulnerable, somehow. At the very least Astros hitters can walk to the plate convincing themselves of it. Any edge you can either get or imagine, right?

Game 6 seems like it will have to be a matter of a small edge one way or another for both teams, really. The Yankees are rolling, but their assignment tonight is a tough one as they try to chase a guy who fancies himself — and has often shown himself — to be a rare throwback to those 1960s and 1970s aces who only seem to get better as the ballgame goes on. The Astros, meanwhile, are tasked with solving a young, fireballing stuff monster who has something to prove after his early exit in Game 2 and, even if he can’t prove it, a corps of relief aces who are among the most formidable in baseball. Add to that the notion that Major League Baseball, Fox and most commentators and casual fans outside of Houston want to see the 12th Yankees-Dodgers World Series matchup and the Astros have to be thinking everything’s against them.

Which is OK, though, right? Ballplayers love it when no one believes in them. That’s not better than six or seven runs of support, but the Astros will take anything they can get at the moment.