Nats slugger Harper doesn't want to hit the wall
VIERA, Fla. (AP)
Bryce Harper walked into the Washington Nationals clubhouse wearing a powder blue headband to keep the hair out of his face, a T-shirt that read ''PED FREE'' and sporting a low tolerance for any wisecracks about the fact that he twice ran into the outfield wall last season.
''Shoot, every single day I went into therapy, somebody said, `Hey, don't run into a wall,''' Harper said. ''And, `Yeah, dummy, you don't walk across the street when there's cars coming.'''
Harper said he never actually uttered that retort during the offseason, but he came up with one on Wednesday that invoked the great Bambino.
''Babe Ruth ran into the wall in D.C. in 1920-something and knocked himself out,'' Harper said. ''So I'm in pretty damn good company right there.''
Ruth was barely hindered by the scary 1924 encounter - he batted .378 that year with 46 home runs - but Harper's mishaps on April 30 in Atlanta and May 13 in Los Angeles were a major factor in the Nationals' letdown season of 2013.
His left knee bothered him the rest of the way, and he finished with a .274 batting average, 20 homers and 58 RBIs in 118 games. He had the bursa in his left knee surgically repaired in October and says he's having ''no problem'' with it after a period of intense rehab.
''I worked my tail off to get to this point,'' he said. ''I feel like I'm where I need to be. I'm excited to start games and feel how I slide and run, hit in games.''
But, with spring training underway, does have also plan to rehab how he plays the outfield? Particularly those balls hit near the wall?
''I'm just going to go right through it again. Yeah, that's what I'm going to do,'' he joked. ''Nah, I'm going to try and get better at that, and try to do some things the right way, and realize if it's a 7-0 ballgame I don't have to try to (intensely) rob a homer and try to be the hero. ... That was just a freak accident last year and that's something that just happened. I had no clue where I was and I just crushed the wall.''
Matt Williams, the Nationals' new manager, said he wants the 21-year-old slugger to play smarter without losing the intensity. And, even though Harper says the knee is fine, Williams is also going to keep a close eye on the repaired joint over the next few weeks.
''With the surgery of the knee, he's got to be mindful of that,'' Williams said. ''We also have to be mindful of him during spring and make sure that we monitor his progress. But I don't see any issues with it.''
Harper said he's leg-pressing 500 pounds and weighs 220, down from 236 last month before plenty of road work on the bicycle slimmed him down a bit.
He said he loses 10-15 pounds during a season, in part because he's so keen on eating properly. He said he wasn't trying to send any particular message by wearing the T-shirt about performance-enhancing drugs to his first spring training meeting with reporters, but he made it clear that he's judicious about what enters his body.
''If my mom's not here, I don't eat,'' Harper said. ''I like her cooking, and I'm really excited for her to come out soon just to do that for me. I don't eat (bad stuff), so it's hard for me to go and get a Chick-fil-A sandwich or something like that. I'm not about that, so anytime I can eat good and eat well, I do that.''
Williams said Harper could hit anywhere from leadoff to fifth this season, but the manager indicated that the 5-spot might be the ideal spot.
''There's a lot of cleanup RBIs there,'' Williams said. ''And it may provide protection for the 3-4 guys as well, depending on the matchup, righty-lefty. ... We'll experiment a little bit in spring and find out where he feels good.''
Follow Joseph White on Twitter: http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP