Report: Bryce Harper has been playing through a shoulder injury for two months

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One of the greatest mysteries of the 2016 season is the day/night difference between Bryce Harper‘s first month or so, in which he raked just like he did in his 2015 MVP season, and the rest of the season where he’s been a shell of his former self.

The answer most often given is that pitchers stopped giving Harper anything good to hit and Harper showed that he couldn’t lay off the bad stuff, chasing balls or so-called “pitchers’ strikes” which were not in his wheelhouse. Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci, however, just reported a far more straightforward explanation: Harper has been playing through a right shoulder injury for the last two months. Verducci hears that Harper hurt his shoulder on a head-first slide and that his swing has been affected ever since.

The Nats’ GM, Mike Rizzo, denies the report, saying that “Tom Verducci is wrong.” Whether he’s denying the nature of the injury or the fact of its existence is an open question — executives have been vague about these things in the past — but there is some corroboration from Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post, who says that Harper, who has missed four straight games, is suffering from both a neck and a shoulder issue.

Harper’s OPS by month certainly tells the story of someone who isn’t right: 1.121 (March/April); .785 (May); .801 (June); .621 (July); .544 (August). The real question now is will he be ready to play, and will he be effective, in October.