CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Bryce Harper rolled in the dirt of the batter’s box, blinded by the pain in his right ankle. He grabbed the joint and grimaced. It was the sixth inning on Friday, and he’d just been hit by a 96-mph pitch, and he was furious.
He rose to his knees and hollered at Blue Jays pitcher Trent Thornton, a career minor-leaguer, who, nervous to face baseball’s $330 million man, simply overthrew a 1-1 fastball. Now, Thornton was nervous for different reasons. Harper was hot.
So was Rhys Hoskins, the Phillies’ cleanup hitter, standing in the on-deck circle.
When Harper finally got to his feet, he barked at Thornton again. Thirty feet away, Hoskins tensed, just in case Harper ran toward the mound.
"I had his back if he was going out there,” Hoskins vowed after the game.
That was never going to happen.
“Was I going to go out and fight him?” Harper said Saturday. “No. Especially in spring training.”
But Harper is glad to know that, if he had attacked Thornton, his new teammates were ready to rumble.
“I have a lot of respect for Rhys, and a lot of these guys in this clubhouse,” Harper said. “For them to say that is awesome.”
The injury kept Harper out of the lineup Saturday, but he wasn’t limping. He even said he might play Sunday, when the Yankees visit Spectrum Field. He suffered minimal swelling. He has a bone bruise. X-rays and a fluoroscopy (a high-resolution X-ray movie) showed no fracture of the impact point, which is called the lateral malleolus -- the bony portion of the ankle that sticks out.
At any rate, Harper said he should be ready for Opening Day on March 28. He doesn’t have a broken ankle. Nobody had a broken hand, either.
Lots of Phillies fans were irate at Thornton, but it was an unlikely scenario for a brawl. There’s no acrimony between the Phillies and Blue Jays, and there’s no history between Harper and Thornton, who was traded from Houston in November and is just trying to win a spot in the Jays’ bullpen.
Those rational thoughts did not immediately enter Harper’s mind when he was writhing on the ground, angry at Thornton. Anything might have happened. When you take a heater off your foot in an exhibition game, you can take away reason and accountability ... right?
“Yeah,” Harper said. “Any time you’re [hit] in spring training, like that ... .”
For the record, Harper said he would have been willing to back up Hoskins, too.