Perhaps the only consolation for Bryce Harper after a shitty week on the basepaths is that it'll be a while before he has to run them again. The Nationals placed Harper on the disabled list with a thumb injury suffered while sliding head-first, and the team fears he could be out a lot longer than 15 days.
Last Saturday, Harper was pulled from the game by manager Matt Williams after jogging out a ground ball back to the pitcher. "This team made an agreement," Williams said afterward, "that when we play the game, that we hustle at all times, that we play the game with intensity and the willingness to win."
Mr. Maybe-Plays-Too-Hard, benched for a lack of hustle? Harper wasn't about to let that happen again. Friday night against the Padres, Harper hit a bases-clearing triple, barely beating the throw to third. He slid head-first, hitting the bag awkwardly, and sprained his thumb.
Harper will see a specialist for a second opinion this week. "We fear that he's got a really bad problem with the thumb," Williams said, and a source told the Washington Post that the prognosis "doesn't look good." It's the same thumb Harper injured in a similar manner in high school, and the fear is ligament damage that could see him sidelined as long as two months.
Update: Harper's getting surgery. He's likely out until July.
The lesson here has nothing to do with hustle; It's that there's very rarely a good reason to slide head-first. Ask Ian Kinsler, Josh Hamilton, Chase Utley, Jason Heyward, Ryan Zimmerman, Yasiel Puig, Mike Napoli, or any of the other players who have hurt themselves sliding in recent years.
But it's hard to blame Harper if he feels like he's getting mixed signals. On Wednesday, he again jogged out of the box on a grounder to first, but kicked it into high gear once the ball was misplayed. Williams seemed fine with that, saying "We're not asking him to go 100 percent all the time, as fast as he can possibly go at every single moment. Because not everybody does."