OXON HILL, Md. (CBSDC/AP) — Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper says he wants to focus on the upcoming season, rather than dwell on his injuries last year.
Harper is working to rehabilitate his left knee from surgery last October.
Asked Saturday to talk about what he learned about himself during a year in which he was limited to 118 games, he said: “That I like hitting walk-off homers.”
The 21-year-old hit his first one to end a 9-7 win over Pittsburgh on July 25. It was a bright spot for Harper and the Nationals in year where much more was expected of both.
Harper said he doesn’t want to think about last year and that it hasn’t soured his offseason.
“After the season, nothing really follows me,” Harper told 106.7 The Fan’s Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier during NatsFest. “I turn the page and flush everything and turn to college football. That’s what I’ve always done. It was hard last year not being back in the playoffs. But we played good ball pretty much half the year then didn’t play very good ball, then played good ball again. The Braves just kept going all year last year. Sometimes you’ve just got to tip your cap. You’re going to have your ups and downs. Hopefully, we can get in this year and do what we need to do get back to where we need to be. We’ve got a great team and we’re excited to get back.”
As for the knee injury, Harper said he probably won’t be at 100 percent when spring training opens.
“It’s going well right now,” he said. “Trying to get back to full strength. See where I can get by spring training and see if I can maybe go through spring training and get to 100 percent by the time the season starts.”
“I sprinted for the first time three weeks ago,” he said. “That was awesome. No pain. To run with no pain was a lot of fun. I haven’t hit with no pain for about, I mean, a year.”
Harper didn’t provide details, but said he hadn’t been 100 percent healthy even before his collisions with outfield walls on April 30 and May 13.
The run-ins eventually forced Harper out of the lineup for over a month with left knee bursitis. He finished with a .274 batting average, 20 homers and 58 RBIs.
The Nationals, picked by many to repeat as National League East champions, struggled for much of the season and were 60-64 on Aug. 19. They ended with a 26-12 run, but finished 10 games behind the Braves and missed the playoffs.
Monitoring Harper’s progress in Florida will be one of new manager Matt Williams’ priorities.
“I have the task of making sure he gets enough (at-bats) and we give him enough rest during the course of spring training so he’ll be ready for opening day,” Williams said. “So that said, it’s kind of fluid at this point.”
Hired in October to succeed Davey Johnson, Williams said he won’t try to change Harper’s aggressive style.
“He’s going to run into walls, it’s going to happen,” Williams said. “Luckily, they’re padded. I just hope he doesn’t damage the stadium when he does.”
“You can’t take his aggressiveness away from him because he’s always played that way. So what we need to do is maybe be a little bit smarter,” he said. “Position him in a spot where he can get to a ball and he doesn’t have to run into a wall, or maybe get him to the fence and let him find it to be able to make a play.”
Harper said he’s looking forward to playing for Williams.
“I think he’s going to bring a spark to our team, the way he manages,” Harper said. “He’s going to take the bull by the horns and let us play, and he’ll be fiery.”
Pitcher Stephen Strasburg is aware of Williams’ reputation.
“Everything I’ve heard from some of the guys that I live around, they say he’s intense. I kind of get that feeling, but I think it’s going to be a good thing for this club, so I’m excited to play for him,” he said.
Strasburg, who underwent arthroscopic surgery in October to remove bone chips from his right elbow, indicated his recovery is on schedule.
“It’s not considered rehab anymore,” he said. “It’s just like normal throwing, running, the normal routine I do every offseason.”
The right-hander finished 8-9 with 3.00 ERA. He had trouble loosening up after his outing on Sept. 8 and eventually went 14 days before his next start.
“It wasn’t so much when I’d go out there and pitch in a game,” he said. “It was really the day after, trying to play catch and trying to throw a bullpen is where it became a little difficult trying to get my arm back and my elbow back and flexible because of these bodies in there.”
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