Bryce Harper wasn’t planning on going to the All-Star game in Kansas City next week. He was hoping for a few days off with his family back in Las Vegas. But he also didn’t realize how players start dropping like flies in the days before the game and that injury replacements are often needed.
One of his own teammates had to drop out. Ian Desmond just doesn’t want to take the risk with a sore left oblique muscle. He can still play, obviously, as we saw when he homered and singled in Saturday’s 4-1 win over the Colorado Rockies at Nationals Park.
But it’s not something he wants to test in a game that doesn’t count for much, either. If manager Davey Johnson needs him as a pinch hitter that’s one thing. Off the bench in an All-Star game? The cost-benefit analysis didn’t work – as painful a decision as it was for him. So instead he will return home to Florida for four days and meet the team in Miami next Friday for the start of the second half.
“I’m just going to go back to Sarasota and rest my body,” said Desmond, who spoke by phone with National League manager Tony LaRussa to discuss the decision. “I think going to the All-Star game and hanging that piece of steak in front of your face and not being able to eat it just would add insult to injury.”
Desmond said there are days where he feels terrible and still somehow comes up with a few base hits. Saturday was a prime example. But the oblique soreness is always present. It crops up when he coughs or sneezes or when he’s holding his 15-month-old son, Grayson.
“I feel like I know my body pretty well,” Desmond said. “If I didn’t think that the four days rest would help I wouldn’t do it. I would just go and play and take a chance. But it’s to the point now where I feel like if I go and rest, come back, I think it’ll be okay.”
Harper, meanwhile, knows what’s ahead of him: A media circus. That might be why he didn’t sound over the moon about his late addition to the roster. He didn’t find out until after the game Saturday, but figured something was up when Johnson was talking across the locker room with general manager Mike Rizzo and a host of front-office types.
“When Davey called me over there it was either I was thinking I was going down because Rizzo and everybody was over there or the All-Star game,” Harper said. “Good thing it was the All-Star game. I’m happy. I am.”
But he also admitted “I doubt it” when asked if he could still get the mental break he’d hoped for even with playing the game in Kansas City. Harper doubted he’d be made an addition to the Home Run Derby even though the man he replaced, Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton, was a marquee name in that event scheduled for Monday at Kaufmann Stadium.
“Of course it’s all for the fans. It’s an exciting time for them,” Harper said. “I’m just going to try to take it all in as much as I can, enjoy it as much as I can. It’s all for the fans. So you try to go in there and really try to enjoy yourself with them and really try to put on a show for them.”
Harper batted 1-for-4 on Saturday and scored a run in the decisive sixth-inning rally. He is batting .283 with eight home runs, 15 doubles and an .831 OPS. He is the favorite so far for the N.L. rookie of the year award and will draw massive attention in Kansas City – not just from the media, but from autograph-seekers, too. It will be a zoo that he will share with fellow Washington All-Stars Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg, a man who knows a thing or two about overwhelming attention.
Harper becomes the youngest position player to make the All-Star team. Johnson also managed the youngest overall, Dwight Gooden, who was a 19-year-old phenom with the New York Mets in 1984.
“Doc was the best pitcher I ever had at that age and Harper’s the best position player I ever had at that age,” Johnson said. “But they’re both very special. It’s fun to watch them go out there and watch them express their talent. It’s just really fun from my viewpoint. You never know quite what you’re going to expect but you know it’s going to be special.”
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