With offseason knee surgery behind him and his third major league season awaiting, Bryce Harper arrived at Nationals spring training this afternoon. If he were not “as a big as a house,” as he vowed he would be after a winter of weight lifting, he was awfully close. He took batting practice with the rest of the reported position players, launching balls over the fence and lashing them off outfield walls.
Harper will meet with the media tomorrow, and so he has yet to give his take on his offseason training and where his rehab stands. But Harper participated fully in the informal workout, and Manager Matt Williams liked what he saw.
“He looks good,” Williams said. “We’ll monitor him, of course, like we talked about. See how he is tomorrow. He looks good. He’s ready to go.
“He’s talked a lot about how he loses weight during the course of the season. He wants to come in the spring and make sure he can carry that as long as he can. I think he looks good. We’ll never, ever be worried about Bryce being in shape. That’s for sure.
“With what happened after last season, with the surgery of the knee, he’s got to be mindful of [putting on weight]. We also have to be mindful of him during spring and make sure that we monitor his progress. But I don’t see any issues with it.”
Williams made one interesting observation about Harper’s spring training workload. He said the ground gets harder throughout the day, as the wind whips and the grass dries out. Because of that, Harper may come out of games earlier than other players to protect his surgically repaired left knee.
“We have to just make sure that we’re on top of it,” Williams said. “But he’ll be good.”
** As Craig Stammen entered the bullpen for his throwing session, he turned to Williams. “I liked that shortstop drill,” he said. “That was fun.”
“It takes you back to the glory days,” Williams replied.
Before pitchers trotted to the bullpen, groups spent time lining up and fielding grounders from the shortstop position. Stephen Strasburg liked the drill because it allowed pitchers to practice fielding without worrying about the lip of the mound, which can cause bad bounces and, in worst cases, bruised faces.
Because all pitchers participated in the drills, even left-handers, it led to some strange visuals. “I like my day job,” lefty reliever Jerry Blevins said, laughing.
Williams thought the drill would break the monotony of standing on or near a mound. Pitchers also ran a drill in which they rotated to every infield position on a bunt play, so they could learn what every fielder thinks and sees. Among the pitchers-turned-shortstops, Doug Fister stood out to Williams.
“He looked good,” Williams said. “He moves well. For as big as he is, he fields his position really well. He’s accurate with his throws in the infield. And it will be a vital part of our success if we can do those things. So it’s good to get him out there and let him experience it.”
** Coaches and players continue to notice and remark about the edge practices have. The workouts have had a certain crispness to them. Williams has not acted like a dictator, but he has created an atmosphere that has caused pitchers to take drills seriously and practice with a purpose.
“It’s been more intense,” pitching coach Steve McCatty said. “A little quicker pace. There’s stuff going on at all the fields. Everything has been really good. It comes from the top. That’s what Matt wanted to establish coming in here, and that’s what he did. So far, it’s been really good.”
Ryan Zimmerman has only been around Viera for a few days, but he’s already developed a first impression.
“Very prepared and organized,” Zimmerman said. “He’s not going to be a drill sergeant like a lot of people said he’s going to be. But he’s not going to be country club or anything like that. He just wants things done the right way. If you’re supposed to be somewhere, be there on time. Get your work done, make sure it’s good work and then get out. That’s how it should be. And nobody I see on this team should have a problem with it. I think that’s how most of us are and how most of our personalities are.”
** Closer Rafael Soriano threw his first bullpen session of the spring. He said earlier he would only pitch at about 40 percent, and for the most part he stuck to that. For the last three or four pitches, he let loose with his best fastball.
“Sori has been great,” Williams said. “He’s participated in everything we’ve participated in. He had three straight days of comebackers and PFPs. He’s excited about that. We talked to him about his plan for spring training, and today was his first bullpen.”
Williams told Soriano he could pitch for eight minutes rather than the full 10-minute session, but Soriano kept pitching for the extra two minutes. “Which is a very good sign,” Williams said. “He felt good. The last three or four pitches, he let it go a little bit. So he’s right on track.”
Last spring, Davey Johnson relented when Soriano requested he not face any NL East foes during the Grapefruit League scheduled. Williams won’t be quite so flexible.
“He hasn’t said anything about that,” Williams said. “We talked about his commitment level and making sure he’s prepared for opening day if we need him. So if it falls on a day where it could be divisional, then it falls on that day. All the things in spring training, we want to make sure he gets in games, and then we have a back-to-back situation, all of that stuff you need to do with your back-of-the-bullpen guys. His objective in spring is to make sure he’s ready opening day.”
** Every Nationals player has reported, Williams said. Jayson Werth has yet to make his presence known with the media, but that really doesn’t matter.