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Bryce Harper needs thumb surgery, out until at least July

Mike Oz
Big League Stew

The Washington Nationals will be without star outfielder Bryce Harper until "at least July," according to a report from ESPN's Keith Law, which says Harper needs surgery to fix a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his left thumb.

Harper, 21, injured himself Friday night when he slid head-first into third base as he tripled against the San Diego Padres. It's the same injury that sidelined Josh Hamilton of the Los Angeles Angels earlier this month, and it was sustained in a similar way — a head-first slide, although Hamilton was sliding into first base. Harper sought the opinion Monday of Dr. Thomas Graham of the Cleveland Clinic, according CSN Washington, and the diagnosis confirmed surgery was needed.

It's the second major injury of Harper's three-year career. He slammed into the Dodger Stadium wall last year and injured his knee. That caused him to miss 44 games.

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(AP)

This injury isn't happening at the best time for the Nationals either, as they've slipped into third place in the NL East after a strong start. Harper adds another name to the team's list of injuries, which includes starting pitcher Doug Fister (a prized offseason acquisition who hasn't pitched for the team yet), third baseman Ryan Zimmerman (who has a broken thumb) and catcher Wilson Ramos, who hurt his hand on opening day. Fister and Ramos, at least, look like they'll be back soon.

Currently, the Atlanta Braves — who've also been dealt a lot of injuries early this season — are looking strong in the NL East and have the second-best record (17-7) in baseball. The Nats, meanwhile, were preseason favorites to win the division and losing Harper for two or three months certainly won't help them get back on that track.

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(AP)

Veteran outfielder Nate McLouth played left field Sunday in Harper's place, and former infielder Kevin Frandsen played there Saturday. It's McLouth, 32 who figures to be the main fill-in for Harper. He's only hitting .118 thus far in 2014 in limited action as the team's fourth outfielder. Playing everyday should improve that, but he doesn't figure to have the upside of Harper.

McLouth is a career .248 hitter who had 12 homers and 36 RBIs last season in 146 games with the Baltimore Orioles. He did swipe 30 bases. The Nats signed him to a two-year deal with $10.75 million in the offseason for this situation.

Health aside, it'll be interesting to see how this impacts Bryce Harper's style of play when he returns. Harper was recently benched by new manager Matt Williams for not running out a grounder and then all of a sudden, he was getting slammed by his critics for not hustling enough.

That's a huge contrast to last season, however, when the Nats wanted Harper to slow down and be more careful after slamming himself into the outfield wall. Harper said then he'd always play the game hard, no matter what. And here he is, injuring himself on a triple — one of the plays in baseball where a player shows the most hustle. 

What a month for Bryce Harper. His critics already decried him for being pampered and lazy, now we'll probably hear about how he's young and reckless, like we did last season. 

Sounds like we've got a few months to figure out which Bryce Harper narrative to believe.

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Mike Oz is an editor for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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