CLEARWATER, Fla. - Bryce Harper, his ankle throbbing after being hit a few hours earlier by a blazing fastball, did not know the severity of his injury Friday night as he waited for results of an X-ray exam.
Two weeks earlier, he was celebrating a $330 million contract. A week earlier, Harper was soaking in a standing ovation before his first at-bat in a Phillies uniform. And now he was sitting in a Clearwater hospital unsure if his ankle was fractured.
It was the first scare of Harper’s time in Philadelphia, a tenure that could last until he’s 39 years old. And the team believes that scare is just a scare. The results of Harper’s X-ray test and fluoro exam did not reveal a fracture. The 96-mph fastball from Toronto righthander Trent Thornton left just a bruise on Harper’s right ankle.
Harper felt much better Saturday morning than he did a night earlier. Manager Gabe Kapler listed Harper as day-to-day with “minimal swelling.” It is uncertain if he will play Sunday against the Yankees. Harper did not play Saturday in a 13-5 loss to the Astros for precautionary reasons.
“I wish I would’ve dodged the baseball,” Harper said when asked if he felt as if he dodged a bullet. “It definitely could’ve been a lot worse.”
Both Harper and Kapler expressed confidence that he will be ready for opening day, on March 28. Harper played catch Saturday and worked out in the weight room. Kapler said Harper looked good and the team would reevaluate him Sunday morning.
Harper will not travel with the Phillies to Florida’s east coast on Monday and Tuesday. If Harper does not play Sunday, that would leave just five Grapefruit League games for him to play in before the team returns to Philadelphia. He could play in minor-league games while the team is on the road.
Harper did not sign with the Phillies until three weeks into camp and has just 10 plate appearances in the four games. Harper, who is hitless in his first five spring at-bats, said this past week that he needs to find his timing at the plate. Any time missed, especially this late in camp, prohibits that.
“It’s definitely important to get back out there and get the at-bats that I need, but I also need to be smart,” Harper said. “I’d rather be healthy than get my at-bats and things like that. Of course, we’ll play it by ear and I’ll get out there as quick as I can to be able to get my at-bats in and see a lot of pitches and do things that I want to do. But we’ll also be smart.”
Harper dropped immediately to the ground after being hit by the pitch. It was a scary moment, said Kapler, who rushed with a team trainer to check on the team’s $330 million superstar. The crowd gasped when Harper was hit and cheered as he limped off the field.
“96 to the ankle,” Harper said. “You never really know what you’re going to get until you get an X-ray and things like that.”
It was the first time, Harper said, that he was hit in that part of the ankle. He was wearing a protective guard on his right shin, but it did not cover where the ball hit. Harper does not have plans to wear anything that would. For him, Friday’s scare turned out to be just a scare.
“If I get hit there again, it’s like putting money on black, right,” Harper said.
Victor Arano, a steady reliever last season, was lifted Saturday before he could record an out as his difficult spring continued. The righthander allowed six runs on five hits in the fifth inning and has allowed 16 earned runs in three spring-innings. He seems to be on the outside of a roster spot.
“Obviously he wants to perform better. He’s frustrated. I understand the frustration,” Kapler said. “We also understand the performance last year and the year prior is a much larger sample size than the couple of outings in spring training where he struggled with the command of his slider, which has really hurt him.
"What’s on his mind is keeping his front side close a little bit more to be able to execute that slider. We’re still seeing the 95 and 96. If for some reason the velocity was down significantly or he simply didn’t have any bite on his slider, at that point I’d say, ‘Yeah, this is something we really need to be thinking about.’ But because the physical side is there and the performance has been there in the past, we know that it’s coming.”