Bryce Harper knows he needs to play smarter because of back issue


Had Saturday’s game been a playoff game, Bryce Harper says he would have played. But right now, in the third week of a 162-game season, Harper knows that he needs to be smarter than he’s been in the past.

He missed the middle game of the Phillies-Cardinals series with back tightness. He did not feel right when he woke up but prepared for the game as he usually does before deciding he needed to say something to Joe Girardi.

“I think it was a great idea, kinda nip it right there, take the day, get the treatment I needed,” Harper said. “I probably felt 70 to 80 percent better today.”

That was evident. Harper went 3 for 3 in Sunday’s series finale with a homer, a double, a single and a walk. The Phillies won 2-0 thanks to Harper’s big bat and Aaron Nola’s first nine-inning complete game.

Harper dealt with a back injury last season and had a few quiet weeks in September as the Phillies faded from contention. He spent the offseason learning a new throwing motion to alleviate some of those back problems. Backs are tricky, a flareup can occur even after days or weeks of feeling good. Harper was concerned Saturday but said the discomfort was not at the same level or in the same spot as last season.

“If I can get the rest that I need once or twice a month and then get us into September, I think that’s definitely a smart call,” Harper said. “I definitely need to be a little bit smarter with how I play. Things I could do when I was 22, I probably can’t do at 28.
It happened with the ball (I hit to) right-center when I jammed it into second pretty hard. Most 3-hole, 4-hole hitters don’t go to second base on that, but you know how I play. ... They usually have to fight me to get me out of my uniform.”

Harper wants to be on the field every day to help the Phillies end a nine-year stretch of no winning seasons. He is obviously one of the Phillies’ three most important players, along with Nola and J.T. Realmuto.

Realmuto, a close friend of Harper’s, spoke with him Sunday about not needing to play all 162 if it keeps him healthier and more effective.

“We actually had that conversation in the dugout in the seventh or eighth inning,” Realmuto said. “He’s a gamer, he wants to be out there. Last year, he played through that back injury all season long and it kinda hindered him. He still performed for us, still carried the team a lot. But with this season being so long, 162 games, if there’s a day here and there he needs to take off to get that back in shape — especially if he’s gonna show up the next day with three hits and a homer — then so be it. He knows that. He’s just a competitor so sometimes Joe has to have that conversation with him. 

“He agreed with me. We’re on the same page with that because I know how he feels. I’m the same way, I want to be in the lineup if I’m not absolutely hurt. That’s what you want, but in the long run, days off aren’t always bad.”

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