Nationals’ Tough Guy Approach With Bryce Harper Ironic Considering Stephen Strasburg Debacle

Bryce HarperThe Nationals heard it all last season when it came to their handling of Stephen Strasburg, who was placed on an innings limit and subsequently shut down before the playoffs. The Nats babied the 24-year-old, they upset the ace and they ruined their season, which once looked so promising.

Now, eight months later, the Nationals are faced with a bit of a health situation involving their other superstar, Bryce Harper, who ran into a wall at Dodger Stadium during Monday’s game. The whole situation involving Harper hardly matches the magnitude of the Strasburg debate, which started early last season and lingered through October and into the offseason, but the dichotomy between the two predicaments is interesting.

Tests apparently indicated that Harper didn’t suffer a concussion — and he’s in Thursday’s lineup — yet it’s hard to dismiss the whole incident because of what we’ve heard since the collision. Harper looked dazed, had no idea where he was and has thrown out words like, “crappy,” “terrible” and “carsick” when describing how he’s felt over the last few days. This isn’t to say the Nationals are lying about Harper, but for a young player who goes full steam on every play and who has a tendency to be candid with the media, shouldn’t some red flags be raised? Shouldn’t Harper’s status be handled carefully rather than simply chalking it up as him getting his bell rung?

The obvious answer is “yes,” but manager Davey Johnson‘s comments don’t exactly suggest that there is a great deal of alarm when it comes to Harper’s status.

“I wasn’t worried about the concussion. He got hit on the chin,” Johnson said. “Nobody gets a concussion from getting hit on the chin. You might get knocked out. You don’t usually get a concussion from that. He’s got a few aches and pains, but he’s young. He’ll probably be alright [Wednesday].”

Maybe Harper really is OK, and delving deeper into the topic is thus a waste of oxygen. It’s just hard to overlook the whole Harper situation, especially knowing the criticism the Nationals faced last season for being too “soft” with their other superstar. If the Nationals truly wanted to shed their “soft” label and become a team more synonymous with characteristics such as “gritty,” “tough” and “driven,” wouldn’t handling their 20-year-old phenom in an old-time baseball sort of way help do the trick? (Get up and dust yourself off, kid. We’ve got a division to win.)

Again, maybe this is reading too much into Harper’s comments about not feeling quite right. It’s just ironic that the Nationals are steadfast on his injury being nothing serious despite his comments, whereas last season’s oft-criticized shutdown of Strasburg came regardless of the right-hander feeling 100 percent fine physically.

If the Nationals are trying to adopt a tougher culture, risking the health of one of the franchise’s cornerstones — when he’s actually banged up and not the victim of some ill-advised innings limit — isn’t the way to go about it.

Have a question for Ricky Doyle? Send it to him via Twitter at @TheRickyDoyle or send it here.

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