PHILADELPHIA — Maybe this is the way Bryce Harper handles things from this point forward.
If he feels something in his lower back, he says something. He takes a day. He gets better. Then he rejoins the Phillies’ lineup the next day and helps them win.
It is how Harper played this weekend against the Cardinals at Citizens Bank Park. After he crushed the baseball three times in Friday’s victory, he missed Saturday’s loss because of soreness in his lower back. But he returned to the lineup for Sunday’s 2-0 victory and smashed a solo home run to right field in the first inning. The ball left his bat at 111.8 mph and traveled a projected 425 feet, according to Statcast. He then doubled down the left-field line in the fifth to lead to the team’s second run. He also walked and singled.
“I think it was a great idea to kind of nip it right there,” Harper said. “Take the day, get the treatment that I needed and then come out today. I probably felt 70 to 80 percent today. If I can get that feeling after a day like yesterday, then I’ll take that at any point.”
But the fact that Harper did not play Saturday because of a back issue raised alarm. He suffered back soreness the final month of last season. He said in February in Clearwater, Fla., that an MRI exam revealed no structural damage but an issue with the QL (quadratus lumborum) muscle. Still, he spent the offseason working on his back to prevent this thing from popping up again. He started to hit later than normal. He took things slowly in the spring.
Then it reappeared before the Phillies’ 14th game, although he said this flareup was in a different area.
“You’re definitely cautious at that point, thinking, ‘Oh, man, not again,’ kind of thing,” Harper said. “But I felt like it was a little bit different this time compared to what it was last year. It just didn’t feel right to be able to go out there [Saturday] and compete at the level I want to compete at. I was sitting on the bench today later in the game and I was thankful that I took that day off and thankful for my training staff kind of pulling me out and going, ‘Hey, we need you in the long haul. We don’t need you today.’”
Harper said he thinks he aggravated his back sliding headfirst into second base after a double on Friday.
“I definitely need to be a little bit smart on the way I play,” he said. “Most three-hole, four-hole hitters don’t really go to second base on that. But you guys know how I play. I enjoy playing the game. I enjoy playing hard, getting the extra base for the guy behind me and things like that. I definitely have to be a little smarter on the field, but also smarter and more cautious off the field.
“If I can get the rest that I need, once or twice a month and then get us into September, I think it’s definitely a smart call.”