Bryce Harper will not be watching the playoffs, he said. He won’t even pay attention to the results. He cannot stomach postseason baseball when his team has been eliminated. “I couldn’t care less about it,” Harper said. “I like college football. I’ll be watching that.”
Harper, eventually, plans to lose himself in offseason weight lifting and to arrive at spring training “as big as a house.” His immediate plans are to do nothing for a month but spend time at home in Las Vegas with his family and his girlfriend. “I’m just going to settle down and lay on my couch and hang out with my dog,” Harper said.
Harper loves the game too much to break up with it, but after his second major league season he could use a break. In the first year he spent in the majors from opening day to Game 162, Harper weathered his first significant injury, drew continual debate about his style of play, fell short of the postseason and produced one of the best offensive seasons ever from a 20-year-old hitter. Now that it’s over, he’s going to catch his breath and clear his mind.
“I’m going to enjoy it and clear my head and not stress,” Harper said. “This game, it stresses me out a little bit. I just want to take that month off and clear my head and not worry about anything. Working out and stuff really helps me with that. I don’t have to worry about all the B.S. and everything that goes on.
“It’s just coming in here every single day and having expectations that you need to do well. I love pressure. I really do. But of course, it’s going to take a toll on you all year long. The mental grind, it’s pretty wearing. It’ll wear on you every single day. It’s tough.”
The first thing Harper can quit worrying about his the condition of his left knee and left hip, which have nagged for the better part of four months. Davey Johnson said at various points this season that he thought Harper may need minor surgery to clean up the bursitis in his knee, which landed him on the disabled list for all of June. This weekend, Harper said he would not need surgery, only rest.
“I really don’t see that,” Harper said. “It’s more trying to take the time off and let everything settle down. Everything is just swollen and things like that. I really don’t see going under the knife or anything like that.”
Harper’s health issues this year have been well-documented. After he began the season on an MVP pace, he leapt into the wall in Atlanta in late April and sped full-speed into another fence in Los Angeles in mid-May.
Over the full season, Harper hit .274/.368/.486 in 497 plate appearances, even with a 1-for-27 finish. He fell short of qualifying for league leaderboards by five plate appearances. If Harper had qualified, his .854 OPS would have ranked 11th in the National League and tied for 10th since 1900 among hitters 20 or younger.
And still, his first month hints at what may be to come and what could have been had he not run into those two walls. On April 29, the day he hit the fence in Atlanta, Harper was hitting .356/.437/.744 over 103 plate appearances. When he was healthy, he was a monster.
“I think not playing 100 percent always affects your productivity, but that’s part of the learning process,” General Manager Mike Rizzo said. “Bryce is going to be an everyday player and a middle of the lineup hitter, so he’s gonna have to get used to not playing at 100 percent fully healthy. With that said, he’s had as good a season as any 20-year-old has had in the history of the game. He’s a guy that we rely on as a 20-year-old to carry a team that wins a lot of games.”
On the night the Cardinals eliminated the Nationals from playoff contention, Harper spoke about the importance of staying healthy and in the lineup. He came out of his first full year in the majors confident he can control his health. The work he put in last of-fseason, he said, protected him from nagging ailments – no pulled hamstrings or wear-and-tear injuries. He just has to avoid acute, self-inflicted pain.
“Body-wise, I felt pretty good except for when I did run into the walls,” Harper said. “You’re going to have your aches and pains. I think everybody does. That’s just how it is. I think going to the offseason, it’s going to be very nice to take that month off and get recovered, then hopefully get my workouts in and get big as a house and go to spring training.”
Harper is unaccustomed to ending a season on a team not at the top of whatever league he happens to be playing in. He expects to make the playoffs every season, and he was disappointed the Nationals missed out this year.
Growing up, “I was always on the best team in the county,” Harper said. “I was always on the No. 1 team in the country, winning everything. These past two months have been very good. I think we’re just going to keep getting better year after year. We’ll just be a better team net year for what happened this year. It’s been a lot of fun.
“I’m never satisfied with what I do. I don’t think I ever will be. I never have been. I’m not going to sit here and tell you I’m satisfied. We’re not going to the playoffs. We’re not doing anything I set out to do every single year. That’s hard, not being able to get into October and play in the postseason. I’m not satisfied at all.”
At the end of the season. Harper’s effort level briefly came into question. Bench coach Randy Knorr, a possible candidate to replace Johnson, criticized Harper for not running out a groundball. Harper said he felt he played hard all season, especially considering the pain he played through in his knee and hip.
“Of course, I don’t like that,” Harper said. “That was one time I did that. I couldn’t care less what people think. That’s how I am. As long as this clubhouse is fine with what I do, my parents, family are fine with what I do, it’s all good.”
FROM THE POST
Davey Johnson managed his final game as the Nationals lost, 3-2, to the Diamondbacks.
Over the weekend, Jayson Werth said he would choose Cal Ripken to manage the Nationals.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL