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.