Feb 11, 2014, 6:00 AM EDT
As the countdown to spring training reaches its final days, we’re counting down the Nationals’ five biggest storylines of camp. We continue today with storyline No. 2: The return of Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg from offseason surgeries…
Upon revealing that three of their star players (Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg and Adam LaRoche) all had undergone surgeries during the final week of October, the Nationals announced all would be recovered in time for the start of spring training.
You never really know, though, until guys step on the field for the first time in months, so there will be no shortage of eyeballs fixated on Harper, Strasburg and LaRoche when each reports to Viera in the coming days.
Of the three, it appears Harper still has the longest road to full recovery. Though he said his surgically repaired left knee felt “great” two weeks ago at NatsFest, the 21-year-old outfielder admitted his focus isn’t on what he can do the first day of camp but what he can do the first day of the season.
“I’m trying to get back to full strength,” Harper said. “I’m trying to see where I can get by [the start of] spring training, and if I can go through spring training and get to 100 percent by the time the season starts.”
The Nationals don’t need to be told how significant a healthy Harper is to their fortunes in 2014. Hindered nearly the entire season by bursitis in his knee, the young star played in only 118 games and wasn’t as productive as he would have hoped.
The club will monitor Harper closely this spring, with new manager Matt Williams admitting he’ll probably try to ease the slugger back into a daily routine, suggesting his playing time could be limited, especially early in camp.
Williams will monitor Strasburg closely as well, though the right-hander insists he needs no special treatment after making a full recovery from October surgery to remove bone chips in his elbow.
Strasburg said at NatsFest he was already on a typical offseason throwing program and won’t need to be held back at all once he reports to Viera. Given the delicate manner in which the Nationals have handled their young ace since drafting him in 2009, few will be surprised if Strasburg is allowed to throw as much as his teammates this spring.
Little has been reported about LaRoche’s recovery from a similar surgery to remove bone chips from his left elbow, an injury that was never disclosed during the season. Doctors expected the veteran first baseman to be ready for the start of camp, though, and there’s been no suggestion to date that won’t be the case.
Even if healthy, LaRoche faces increased scrutiny this spring. On the heels of the worst season of his career, the 34-year-old needs to re-establish his value to the Nationals.
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