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Spring training storyline No. 2: Harper, Strasburg recovery

Feb 11, 2014, 6:00 AM EDT

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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.

  1. sjm308 - Feb 11, 2014 at 7:33 AM

    Have to hope Harper is growing, not only in size but in wisdom and will listen as they bring him along a little slower than he might like. I like that Williams is going to have a bit of a leash on our two young stars and I hope that all of our lads get a little more rest during the season as well. Besides riding LaRoche & Espinosa waaaay too long last season, Davey really did little to give others rest. I am not talking about a platoon here, just good common sense in getting each player a day off every now and then.

    Have to think the differences in managing styles this season will be the number one story. Big adjustments for both the players and for Williams as he takes over his first team. Its one thing to manage a bunch of young talent in the Arizona Fall League for a month, or be a third base coach or even bench coach in the majors. Its another to have full responsibility for 162 games (or hopefully more!) in the National League with a team expected to contend. I can’t wait!!!!

    Go Nats!!!

    • jd - Feb 11, 2014 at 10:41 AM

      That’s a really great point SJM308. Fredi Gonzalez came into last year with a really so so reputation as a manager but I was really impressed how he used his entire bench all year and he was rewarded for that with solid contributions from the likes of Jordan Schaffer, Gerald Laird, Evan Gaddis, Teradaslowitz (sorry for butchering the spelling) etc.

      I would really like to see all of our bench players get semi regular starts so they stay sharp and the regulars stay fresh. Playing Ramos in something like 25 straight games is almost negligent.

      • David Proctor - Feb 11, 2014 at 11:16 AM

        In fairness, there was really no downside in playing Ramos all those games. Ramos wanted to prove that he could stay healthy, it was important to him. Plus, we needed him because we were still, barely, in contention. And there was no downside because if Ramos tweaked his hammy or something, he’d have all offseason to rest.

        But I do agree that in general, we can’t have guys going out there playing on one leg like both Werth and Harper were. Desi played through a bunch of issues too, remember the back and hamstring.

      • Section 222 - Feb 11, 2014 at 1:18 PM

        DP, I agree there wasn’t much downside to letting Ramos play, assuming that he wasn’t going to seriously reinjure himself. But to say we were in contention, even barely, is a huge stretch. When he started his streak on Aug. 22 we were 15 games back. His 10th straight game was on Sept. 1, and we were still 15 games back.

      • jd - Feb 11, 2014 at 1:37 PM

        The downside is further injury and the risk for further injury is greatly enhanced by not allowing sufficient recuperation time for a very taxing position. Sometimes injuries are not just pulled hammys. There is a reason 99% of teams play a backup catcher every day game following a night game even if the backup is a huge drop off from the starter.

        I think this was another example of Davey managing like someone who is retiring at the end of the year.

      • zmunchkin - Feb 11, 2014 at 3:10 PM

        Section 222, DP is right that we were in contention if you consider the WC. You are right that being 15 games behind the Braves made winning the NL East next to impossible. But on the two dates you specified, the Nats were 9.5 and then 6.5 games back of the Reds for the second WC. And when the games began on Sept 14 (with 15 games to go), the Nats were 4.5 back. While making up that much ground is certainly hard, to call is a huge stretch is a bit of an over-statement.

  2. Nats128 - Feb 11, 2014 at 9:32 AM

    “@washingnats: Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler, Jerry Blevins, Gio Gonzalez and Taylor Jordan are already in camp and working out. #Nats #MLB”

  3. flnatsfan - Feb 11, 2014 at 9:41 AM

    Apparently, according to Bill Ladson, Taylor Jordan broke his ankle this offseason???? Should we be worried about him along with Harper, Stras, and LaRoche?

    • Nats128 - Feb 11, 2014 at 10:12 AM

      “Breaking” news by Bill Ladson. Taylor says he is fine and luckily it’s not his arm or shoulder. I’m not concerned. I’m more concerned about whether he worked on his slider and cutter over the Winter and that it’s improved.

  4. TimDz - Feb 11, 2014 at 10:50 AM

    I think a huge key to this season will be which Adam Laroche shows up this year.

    If it is the 2012 version (playing for his next contract), I think the Nats will be a monster. If the 2013 version shows up, the season won’t exactly be lost, but there could be struggles…

    On the plus side, LaRoche IS playing for another contract (most likely not with the Nationals, but with some team), so he has some additional motivation…

    • David Proctor - Feb 11, 2014 at 11:17 AM

      His 2012 was a career year. He won’t be that. But he shouldn’t be as bad as 2013 either. I see something like .250 and 25HR.

      • TimDz - Feb 11, 2014 at 11:35 AM

        If he can do .250 with 25 HR and 70 RBI, I could live with that

      • ronnowinarlingtonnotreston - Feb 11, 2014 at 1:05 PM

        If he ends up in a partial platoon situation, i.e. sitting against particularly tough lefties, not all, his average could be much closer to the 275-280 range, still with the 25 HR and anywhere from 70-90 RBI — especially with a healthy Harper and Zim in front of him and healthy Werth and Desi behind him and rejuvenated Span setting the table, he should have plenty of RBI opportunities. Add to that his (we hope) refining of his medication regimen and it could be a lot closer to 2012 or at the very least, career averages.

  5. RPrecupjr - Feb 11, 2014 at 1:10 PM

    Ok, testing to see if this worked…..I realized the ronnowinarlington name is just a little too much, so I’m going back to the RPrecupjr moniker

    • RPrecupjr - Feb 11, 2014 at 1:12 PM

      Woo Hoo, I feel better now.

      And seeing ONE day on the clock helps, too :)

      Of course then it’ll get reset for Opening Day and we’ll be back to 50+ days…..but the guys will be playing and I’ll have something to follow every day that’s real, not just speculation.

Archives

NL EAST STANDINGS

W L GB MN
x-WASHINGTON 87 63 -- 0
ATLANTA 75 76 12.5
MIAMI 73 77 14.0
NEW YORK 73 79 15.0
PHILADELPHIA 69 81 18.0
Through Tuesday's early games
x-Clinched division title
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WED: Nats at Braves, 7:10 p.m.
THU: Nats at Marlins, 7:10 p.m.
FRI: Nats at Marlins, 7:10 p.m.
SAT: Nats at Marlins, 7:10 p.m.
SUN: Nats at Marlins, 1:10 p.m.
MON: OFF
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