Bryce Harper leaves game with knee injury

The Nationals’ star and a leading MVP candidate was injured Saturday night when running hard down the first base line.

Once the rain subsided, the real dreariness set in.

Washington Nationals star and MVP candidate Bryce Harper left Saturday night’s game against the San Francisco Giants in the bottom of the first inning after injuring himself sprinting to first base.

Harper was trying to beat a play at first and stepped on the middle of the first base bag hard, then skidded, jarring all of his weight onto his straightened left leg. He then vaulted into the air and tumbled to the ground. Harper remained on the ground for an extended period of time, clutching his upper shin. Nationals manager Dusty Baker approached the writhing Harper with both hands on his head.

Harper was helped off the field by a trainer and Nationals hitting coach Rick Schu. Harper was not putting any weight on his leg. He was able to walk through the clubhouse and up the ramp to the players’ parking lot after the game.

Baker said Harper hyperextended his leg and will have an MRI Sunday morning. General manager Mike Rizzo is expected to provide an update on Harper on Sunday morning. Baker does not speak to reporters before Sunday games.

“Silence goes over the crowd,” Baker said. “You’re just thinking, ‘Please, Lord, don’t let it be serious.’ My first thought was to think about [Wilson] Ramos last year down the stretch. So I’m hoping that’s not the case.”

Ramos tore his right ACL Sept. 26 last season when he slipped on a wet playing surface near homeplate. The injury caused the Nationals to lose their All-Star catcher just before the postseason.

The 24-year-old Harper came into Saturday night hitting .327 with 29 home runs. He has been entrenched in the No. 3 spot in the Nationals’ batting order during a season filled with success and injuries in Washington. The National League MVP race was shaping up to be a two-person contest between Harper and Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt.

When Saturday night’s game began after a three-hour rain delay — a decision that rested with Major League Baseball because it was after the All-Star break and the opponent, San Francisco, would not be returning to Washington for another series — the field was still wet and a light rain fell. Friday night’s game was postponed because of persistent thunderstorms in the area. That game was rescheduled for Sunday as part of a split day-night doubleheader. The Friday postponement meant that the league would be focused on playing Saturday night, no matter the wait.

Giants pitcher Jeff Samardzija and first baseman Ryder Jones were both near the bag when Harper came streaking up the line in the first. Samardzija was running alongside Harper, heading to the bag to receive a possible throw. Jones ducked in and stepped toward the bag, causing Samardzija to jump out of the way. Harper stepped down hard on the bag a moment later.

“The top of the bases were wet obviously from the rain,” Jones said. “It looked like we were about to collide because Samardjzija was kind of right there, too. Just a freak accident. I guess we’ll find out what happened to him, but it didn’t sound too good.”

By the time Baker reached Harper, he knew something in the moment seemed significantly wrong.

“He was in obvious pain, and he was praying and I was praying, too,” Baker said. “He was talking to the Master. That’s what we usually do when things are in a bad way. The good thing is he’s young and strong. I’m very optimistic that he’ll be at least fine shortly.”

The Nationals had already used 12 different outfielders this season. Saturday night began with Adam Lind in left field, Brian Goodwin in center and Harper, the 2015 National League MVP, in right. Andrew Stevenson came in to play center field and Goodwin took Harper’s place in right after the injury.

Washington has been without Adam Eaton since late April because of a torn ACL in his left knee that ended his season, Jayson Werth since early June because of a bruised left foot and Michael Taylor since July with a right oblique strain. Taylor is expected to return soon.

The list of injured Nationals outfielders is so expansive, Baker had not realized Washington used 12 total outfielders this season until a reporter told him Friday. For three months, Baker has been trying to construct a lineup with dwindling options. Yet, the Nationals’ offense remained the best in baseball.

The Nationals lead the NL East by 14.5 games after Saturday’s 3-1 win despite those injuries and more to starters Stephen Strasburg and Joe Ross, relievers Shawn Kelley and Koda Glover and shortstop Trea Turner, but a long-term injury to Harper would be devastating to their prospects in October. Washington and the Los Angeles Dodgers are viewed as the powers in the National League this season. The Dodgers beat the Nationals in last year’s National League Division Series, 3-2.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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