Healthy Harper moves on from injury that hampered '13
Outfielder arrives at Spring Training feeling good after offseason surgery on left knee
VIERA, Fla. -- Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper has been in camp for two days, but one could never tell he had left knee surgery this past offseason. On Tuesday, he took hitting practice at Space Coast Stadium without any problems.
On Wednesday, after taking his physical and watching the United States' Olympic hockey game in the clubhouse, Harper spoke to the local media and declared his knee was 100 percent. He is no longer in rehab mode and expects to participate in full-squad workouts Thursday.
"I feel good. I have no problem with it at all, no soreness. It doesn't hurt at all," Harper said. "I feel good swinging and running. I'm doing cuts and things like that. I feel fine. My mobility is good. I feel like my strength is there, too."
Harper hurt the knee on May 13 of last season when he slammed into the right-field wall at Dodger Stadium. Because of the injury, he played just 118 games last year. Harper admitted he is sick of talking about it. Every time he went into therapy this offseason, somebody would crack, "Don't run into a wall."
How did Harper respond to the crack?
"Yeah, dummy, you don't walk across the street when there are cars coming," he said sarcastically.
"It's over," Harper said about the incident. "Babe Ruth ran into the wall in D.C. in 1920-something and knocked himself out, so I'm in pretty good company right there. He had a good career."
Harper did everything he could to be ready for the 2014 season. In the past, he was used to running hills and in stadiums, but he couldn't do that this offseason because of the knee surgery. Instead, Harper rode a bike -- stationary and ordinary -- for two months before he could even think about running.
Then by Jan. 1, Harper was able to push it to the limit. He started lifting weights with his legs, lifting as much as 500 pounds.
"I'm getting back to where I need to be -- ladders, step-ups, box jumps and everything that I need to be doing," Harper said. "I feel good about it and I'm excited to get going."
Harper looks even bigger than he did in years past. His weight is at 220 pounds, but at one point during the offseason, he was at 236. Most of that, according to Harper, was probably water weight. He expects to lose about 10 to 15 pounds by the end of the season.
"But I feel great where I'm at," Harper said. "I feel really strong, stronger than I've ever been. And it's been a lot of fun this offseason -- working with my Pop, getting a bit stronger, hitting the ball the other way far and pulling the ball. I mean, I feel unbelievable right now, so I'm very excited."
Manager Matt Williams isn't concerned that Harper came to camp bulked up.
"I will never be worried about Bryce being in shape. That's for sure," Williams said.
For a guy who dealt with a bad knee for most of last year, Harper put up respectable numbers, hitting .274 with 20 home runs and 58 RBIs. He declined to talk about the numbers he would like to put up this year, but he would like to improve his baserunning, cut down on strikeouts and improve his on-base percentage.
Harper wouldn't mind picking Williams' brain about the game of baseball. Harper says it helps that Williams isn't far removed from playing the game, having last played in 2003.
"[Williams] gets the game. He understands from playing so close to where we are at now," Harper said. "It's nice to be able to have a young guy there doing things, working hard and having that enthusiasm of being here every single day.
"There are a lot of teams trying to go [that way]. It's starts with [Cardinals manager Mike] Matheny, [Tigers manager] Brad Ausmus and a lot of guys. Matheny has had so much success in St. Louis. It's nice to have someone that understands everything [in Washington]."
Harper also plans to be careful when it comes to dealing with an outfield wall. If the Nationals have a big lead, for example, he doesn't have to try and be a hero.
"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 rob a homer and try to be the hero," Harper said. "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. I mean, [stuff] happens, I guess."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.