Though his surgically repaired left knee feels “great,” Bryce Harper admitted Saturday he had been in pain well before his well-publicized wall collisions in April and May and he may not be 100 percent healed for the start of Nationals spring training.
“I’m trying to get back to full strength,” the 21-year-old outfielder said at NatsFest. “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.”
Hampered by bursitis in his left knee most of the season, Harper had arthroscopic surgery Oct. 23 in Colorado to debride and repair the bursa sac. He is now 13 weeks removed from the procedure, which Harper was told requires 16 total weeks of rehab.
That would bump right up with the start of spring training — Nationals pitchers and catchers report to Viera in 19 days — and neither Harper nor new manager Matt Williams can say with confidence yet that he’ll be full-go from the beginning of camp.
“Right now, he’s on track on his rehab,” Williams said. “We’ll look at that when he gets down there. I have the task of making sure he gets enough ABs and we give him enough rest during the course of spring training so he’ll be ready for Opening Day in New York. That being said, it’s kind of fluid at this point, because we just don’t know. If he goes out there and plays six innings, we don’t know how that’s going to react. We’ll have to evaluate that every day. But the challenge is making sure we get him enough so he’s ready to go [for Opening Day].”
Harper said he has ramped up his rehab in the last three weeks, cleared to sprint and hit for the first time.
“That was awesome, no pain,” he said. “To hit with no pain and run with no pain was a lot of fun. I haven’t hit with no pain for about, I mean, a year. That’s not very fun to go through a year, a year-and-a-half with something. I know you’re going to have your ups and downs and you’re going to play through pain, but that was something that I didn’t like doing. It didn’t feel very good.”
That’s the first time Harper has suggested he was injured prior to his two collisions with outfield walls (April 30 in Atlanta, May 13 in Los Angeles). He wouldn’t reveal any more detail than that, other than to confirm it has been more than a year since he was 100 percent healthy.
Harper admittedly tried to play through pain on numerous occasions last season, often to his (and the Nationals’) detriment. He knows know that was a mistake.
“I’ll probably never do that again,” he said. “My knee was a lot worse than people thought. I’ll probably never do that again.”
There has been much discussion since about Harper’s all-out style of play and whether he needs to rein himself in. Williams, like others, noted the young outfielder can be a bit smarter with his decision-making on the field but doesn’t want him to change his overriding approach.
“He’s going to run into walls, it’s going to happen,” Williams said. “But luckily they’re padded. I just hope he doesn’t damage the stadium when he does. He has to play the way he plays. You can’t take his aggressiveness away from him, because he’s always played that way. What we need to do is maybe be a little bit smarter. Position him in a spot where he can get to a ball where he doesn’t have to run into the wall, or get him to the fence and let him find it to be able to make a play. So that’s our objective as a staff. I’m not going to put a harness on him. I can’t do that. Because that’s the way he plays. We’ll do some things in spring training to get him to a point where he feels more comfortable.”