Here is our first dispatch from NatsFest at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, where, the hotdogs run $7, the beer is domestic and parking may cost you an organ.
Bryce Harper played through pain last season even before collided with the fence in Atlanta in late April, he said this afternoon, and he has prioritized avoiding a similar struggle this season over the early days of spring training.
The Nationals have insisted Harper would be “100 percent” at the outset of spring training since late November, when he underwent surgery to repair the bursa sac in his left knee. But Harper plans to use caution and does not want to use Feb. 18, the first day position players report, as a benchmark.
“I’m not sure,” he said. “It’s all about how I feel in rehab and how I feel that day. If I’m not feeling very well, if the knee isn’t reacting well, then I’ll take a day off and see where I’m at that next day.”
Harper’s rehab, he said, has gone to schedule and gone well. He sprinted for the first time three weeks ago. He can perform leg presses with a lighter weight than usual. His program will last 16 weeks, and he has completed between 12 and 13 of them. Manager Matt Williams said he will treat Harper’s recovery as a “fluid” issue during spring training and plans to ease him in.
“I’m trying to get back to full strength and see where I can get by spring training,” Harper said. “I’ll see if I can go through spring training and get to 100 percent by the time the season starts. We’ll see where I’m at.”
“Hopefully, I don’t have to go through that again,” he added. “I don’t like getting hurt. I like being on the field. I like playing. I’m just going to go into this year trying to get better every day and see where we’re at.”
For the first time, Harper suggested his bursitis may have started before previously known. He insisted he has played through for pain for more than a year, and he felt a marked difference when he first sprinted after surgery.
“I sprinted for the first time three weeks ago,” Harper said. “That was awesome – no pain. To 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. Being able to hit, being able to run, being able to track baseballs, it has been a great offseason. It’s a lot of fun to be able to do it.”
Harper’s condition has been analyzed this offseason beyond his recovery from surgery. Earlier this month, ESPN recycled Harper saying he wanted to add weight this winter and arrive at spring training weighing 245 pounds. The story gave rise to debates about whether or not he should gain weight.
“People make stories because they have nothing to write about in the offseason,” Harper said. That’s just how it is. I go into every single year – I came into spring training last year 238. That’s six pounds off of what I want to come in at this year. I’m at 220 right now. I actually dropped about 10 pounds the past three weeks from running and whatnot. I feel very good right now, very good. It’s going to be good.”
The rehab process has not blunted Harper’s bravado or appetite for the spotlight. Earlier this week, before NatsFest, Harper stopped in Bristol, Conn. to film an ESPN “SportsCenter” commercial. Saturday, a reporter asked Harper the No. 1 thing he learned about himself last year, meant as a reflective query about his up-and-down season. Harper shrugged.
“I like hitting walk-off homers,” Harper said. “Everybody knows what happened last year. Everybody knows what I did last year and how I got hurt, blah blah blah blah blah. I just want to focus on this year and focus on what I need to do to get better, what the rehab is, how to get better in spring with my knee, running, hitting and everything. Last year is in the past, and I’m focused on right now.”