A head-first slide into a base has claimed another player this season: Bryce Harper. The Nationals outfielder left last Friday night's game against the Padres an inning after a bases-clearing triple. X-rays on the thumb came back negative, and Nats manager Matt Williams initially downplayed the severity of the injury, explaining that Harper had merely jammed it on the slide.
On Saturday, Harper went in for an MRI, but Williams felt that he would still be available to pinch hit, despite the presence of swelling. Later that day, however, after results from his MRI were in, he was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a left thumb sprain. But now, according to ESPN's Keith Law, Harper will be undergoing surgery for a torn ulnar collateral ligament and will be shelved until at least early July.
This is quite a blow for a Nationals team that is already pretty banged up. They are currently without the services of Ryan Zimmerman, Doug Fister, Wilson Ramos, Scott Hairston, and Ross Ohlendorf. Harper has now been added to the list of wounded.
The injury timeouts that the 21-year-old Harper has already had to take in his young career are significant. He missed 44 games last season after colliding with the right-field wall at Dodger Stadium. A tear of this nature has to be alarming to the Nationals. While Law is reporting an early July return as a best-case scenario, Baseball Prospectus's Corey Dawkins and Ben Lindbergh estimate a typical recovery time of "at least three months" before a player can return to full baseball activities. Particularly concerning are their warnings that "[t]ears of the UCL dramatically impact baseball performance because of the game’s gripping and grasping requirements." They continue somewhat more reassuringly:
The long-term prognosis for recovery is usually very good, although some patients do develop stiffness that takes a long time to resolve. There can also be associated arthritis, especially with chronic tears, so continued soreness may also be an issue.
The Nationals called up Steven Souza Jr. to take Harper's place on the 25-man roster.