David Kohl/Associated Press
David Kohl/Associated Press
CINCINNATI – Bryce Harper’s frustrated swing cost him a little blood and a little embarrassment but no time on the field.
The teenager was lucky.
Harper took out his frustration on a wall May 11, slamming his bat hard against the side of the tunnel leading to the clubhouse. The barrel smacked off the wall and hit his temple just above the left eye, causing a gash that needed 10 stitches after a 7-3 win over Cincinnati.
He was in the starting lineup again the next night, wearing a white bandage over the lump just above his eyebrow.
“No problem; no headache,” the 19-year-old outfielder said. “I feel great. Ready to go.”
Manager Davey Johnson initially thought Harper would need a couple of days to recover. Harper texted him after he got stitches Friday night and said the doctor had cleared him to keep playing.
When Johnson saw him the next day, he relented.
“There wasn’t any swelling around the eye to speak of,” Johnson said. “So he can take out that anger on the opposing pitcher instead of the walls around here.
“He’s real lucky, real fortunate. It could have been a heck of a lot worse.”
It’s been quite a two-week debut for Harper, who has been plunked and, now, has plunked himself while getting accustomed to the major league spotlight. Harper, the first overall pick in the 2010 amateur draft, had handled it well until Friday night.
His first promotion to the majors April 28 drew comparisons to Ken Griffey Jr., the last 19-year-old to hit a homer batting left-handed. Harper’s two-week stint has been all about hitting.
Philadelphia’s Cole Hamels hit him in the back with a pitch last Sunday as a way of welcoming him to the majors. Harper responded by stealing home later in the inning. Hamels got a five-game suspension.
When the Nationals arrived in town last Friday, Harper was brought to the dugout for a session with local media covering his Cincinnati debut. Johnson praised the way he’s handled all the attention.
Then, a rare night of frustration got to him.
Harper went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts. After he grounded out in the seventh inning, he went into the tunnel connecting the dugout to the clubhouse and took a whack at the wall. The bat flew back and hit him.
He stayed in the game even though blood was trickling from the cut, then struck out in the ninth inning.
It’s common for players to vent frustration by throwing or swinging something. Most times, nothing happens. Harper’s gash above the eye was a reminder that it’s important to vent safely, a lesson the New York Knicks’ Amare Stoudemire learned after punching a case surrounding a fire extinguisher after a loss to the Heat in the NBA playoffs.
One frustrated swing can make everything much worse.
“I’ve had teammates punch walls and break their hands,” Reds outfielder Drew Stubbs said, referring to his days in the minor leagues. “You have to be careful or you could end up missing time.”
Harper’s gash got the attention of Reds rookie shortstop Zack Cozart, who never has hurt himself while throwing a fit.
“I’ve thrown helmets,” Cozart said. “You get frustrated in the heat of the moment. I’ve never had anything like a bat come back and hit me. That’s kind of scary.”
Maybe he should be more like Reds All-Star second baseman Brandon Phillips, who doesn’t see a point in throwing or hitting anything after a bad at-bat.
“I laugh at myself,” Phillips said. “I don’t throw my helmet. It’s not the helmet’s fault. It’s not the bat’s fault.
“He’s just trying hard. He’s young. He’ll learn. The older he gets, he won’t do that. That just shows he’s wearing his emotions on his sleeve.”
Reds manager Dusty Baker learned how to handle frustration from a Hall of Famer early in his playing career.
“Everybody, when they’re young, has a temper,” Baker said. “I’ve seen guys throw their helmet on the ground, and it bounces back up and hits them in the face.
“I remember one time I threw my helmet, and Hank Aaron put his hand on the back of my neck and said he never wanted to see me do that again. I said, ‘OK, if you’ll take your hand off my neck.’ He said it’s not the helmet’s fault. Pick it up, put it where it belongs, go over and sit down and figure out how you’re going to get him the next time.”
Johnson attributed Harper’s outburst to frustration brought on by trying too hard at the plate.
“I thought (that) night was one of the few times he was overly aggressive,” Johnson said. “He’s been patient, making them throw in the strike zone. (That) night they threw a lot of offspeed stuff, and he was chasing it.
“Obviously the whole night he was overly aggressive. He hit that wall pretty hard, and maybe it knocked some sense into him.”