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Bryce Harper went 0-for-3 with a walk yesterday against the Red Sox.
BOSTON -- For the first time since he made his major-league debut six weeks ago, Bryce Harper is not in the Nationals' starting lineup.
The 19-year-old outfielder wasn't listed among Davey Johnson's starting nine for today's series finale against the Red Sox, a benching the manager said was due to "tightness or stiffness" in his lower back.
"I don't think it's anything, but it was bothering him a little bit after [Saturday's] game," Johnson said. "[Bench coach] Randy Knorr came in to me and said Bryce is hurt. The trainer came in and said the same thing. I think because of who he is, those guys notice anything that goes on, just like you guys do. But Bryce hasn't said anything to me. We're just being on the safe side."
Harper had started all 37 games since his promotion from Class AAA Syracuse on April 28, playing in all but one inning (after he slammed his bat against the dugout wall in Cincinnati and cut his left eye).
Johnson first mentioned the possibility of a back issue following Thursday's game, when Harper made a diving attempt for a ball in right field and hunched over in apparent discomfort. Harper insisted he was fine, and he showed no ill effects Friday night when he went 3-for-5 with a homer and a double in his Fenway Park debut.
Harper, who went 0-for-3 with a walk and two strikeouts Saturday, insisted again he's fine and clearly wasn't happy with his manager's decision to give him the day off.
"[Jon] Lester's on the mound, so I was pretty excited to face him," the rookie said. "I like lefties. Whatever. Whatever they want to do. Nothing I can do."
Johnson said he doesn't mind a player being upset about being forced to sit for a day, though he also wants them to understand when it's appropriate to reveal a medical issue to their manager.
"When a coach vocally says his back's bothering him and the trainer says the same thing, normally I don't have coaches and trainers saying that about players," Johnson said. "I'm weighing it with just like you guys are here asking about it right now. But anybody that has a little something going on, nip it in the bud and be on the safe side, give him a day."
Harper did take batting practice in the cage underneath Fenway Park and is available to pinch-hit. Johnson said he expects his outfielder to return to the lineup Monday in Toronto.
"This is nothing other than just being precautionary. Give him a day. I anticipate he'll be in the lineup tomorrow."