Feb 19, 2014, 4:50 PM EDT
VIERA, Fla. — Having participated in a full workout, taken a full round of batting practice and undergone the club’s annual physical, Bryce Harper is convinced his surgically repaired knee has completely healed and won’t present any further issue as he prepares for the the start of the season.
“There’s nothing wrong with it,” he said. “I’m good. I’m solid. I’m solid as can be.”
Harper’s remarks Wednesday — his first since arriving in Viera for spring training — conveyed far more confidence than his words from NatsFest only three weeks ago, when he suggested his knee might not be 100 percent for the start of camp.
But the 21-year-old outfielder has ramped up his physical activities since then, with a workout regimen back home in Las Vegas that included extensive bicycle riding and weight lifting and full baseball drills that included batting practice, baserunning and defensive work. The only hurdle left for Harper to clear: actual games, which don’t begin for another nine days.
“We worked hard all offseason, and 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.”
Harper’s weight gain — a subject of much discussion over the winter — doesn’t appear to be anything of concern. He said he topped out at 236 pounds in mid-January but has dropped down to 220 over the last month as he has ramped up his workouts, which include leg-pressing 500 pounds.
“I started rolling on the bike and running a lot and cut down a little bit,” the 6-foot-3 slugger said. “I probably had a lot of water weight there, but I feel great where I’m at. I feel really strong, stronger than I’ve ever been.”
Harper shared some details of his October surgery for bursitis in his left knee, an injury that plagued him through the majority of 2013. He said doctors were able to keep 90 percent of the damaged bursa sac intact and found nothing wrong with his ACL, MCL or meniscus. The chances of long-term issues, such as arthritis, appear minimal.
“I’ll have no bone-on-bone contact or anything like that,” he said. “My knee is completely fine.”
Now begins the arduous task of keeping Harper on the field and getting him through a full season with no significant hiccups. New manager Matt Williams understands he’ll face a delicate balance: Playing his young star as much as possible while still giving him opportunities to rest.
“Games-wise, he’s going to want to play in 162,” Williams said. “I want him to be as fresh as possible every single day, so we’re going to have to pick our spots with that and make sure that we can get him those days off when we can. Tough one, though. You want your guys to want to play every day. And he’s one of them.”
One way to keep Harper in the lineup, of course, is to keep him from doing too much damage to his body through his aggressive style of play. Williams has said he wants the young star to be a little more self-aware on the field but doesn’t want him to change the way he plays the game.
Harper is on board with that philosophy.
“I’m going to try and get better at that, and try to do some things the right way,” he said. “Realize if it’s a 7-0 ballgame, I don’t have to try to frickin’ rob a homer and try to be the hero when we’re up 7-0.”
A day rarely passed this winter in which Harper wasn’t asked about his infamous collision with the right-field wall at Dodger Stadium. He would smile back and not offer a snide response, though clearly he’s ready to put that incident behind him forever.
“It’s over,” Harper said. “Babe Ruth ran into the wall in D.C. in 1920-something and knocked himself out. So I’m in pretty damn good company right there. He had a good career.”
ON THE RADIO
As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2014 schedule (subject to change)...
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