While Bryce Harper’s surgically repaired left knee has held up well during the first week of spring training, Manager Matt Williams and the Nationals will still keep a close eye on him. The Nationals‘ first Grapefruit League game is Friday against the New York Mets in Port St. Lucie and Harper is slated to see his first action on Saturday against the Atlanta Braves in Viera.
Williams has gotten only glimpses of Harper’s arm strength in camp, and he expects to see more when the Nationals do infield drills that feature throws from the outfield, one of Harper’s specialties. But once the adrenaline kicks in, the little that early March games can provide, and Harper puts more wear and tear on his knee around the bases, Williams will have piqued interest in the outfielder’s knee.
“He’s a full-go right now,” Williams said. “There are no issues. He’s continuing his work in the training room as far as his rehab goes. He’s able to do everything on the field. He’s participated in every drill. For me, he’s good. But we’ll continue to monitor though because once you get on the field and start playing games, everybody gets sore again. There’s no way to prepare for it. We’ll have to monitor as we go along. He seems fine.”
As far as where Harper will play in the outfield, Williams wants to keep the 21-year-old in left field. Harper was primarily a center fielder in 2012, with some time spent in right. Last season, with center fielder Denard Span in the fold, Harper manned left field almost exclusively and Jayson Werth was in right. In two seasons in the majors, Harper has played 858 1/3 innings in left, 776 2/3 in center and 546 2/3 in right. For a less experienced player who was converted from a catcher to an outfielder in the minor leagues, Harper has bounced around a lot.
This season, Williams intends to keep the strong-armed Harper in left. Werth has said in the past that there will come a time for Harper to play right, but for now the outfield positions will remain as such.
“I like the construction of our outfield right now,” Williams said. “I think Jayson’s a fantastic right fielder. Denard (Span) is phenomenal in center. And Bryce is pretty special in left. Does it mean they’re not going to move around? No. But as we get started early on, I’m going to try to keep it that way and let them go play and get themselves in shape and ready to go … Nate McLouth is a huge piece to the puzzle as well because he plays all three.”
While the two have talked before during the winter, Williams and Harper have gotten to know each other in earnest over the past week in camp. What has stood out to Williams so far is Harper’s curiosity and desire.
“He talks more than I thought he did,” Williams said. “He talks a lot. He goes into the coaches room and sits down and talks the game. I think he’s a great student of the game. He pays attention to those types of things. It’s refreshing. It would be easy for a young player to kinda go into their own world, especially somebody like him. But he really understands the exterior around him. He understands the game, he’s a great student, wants to learn and wants to get better. We’ve talked more than I anticipated us talking in that regard because he’s constantly asking questions, not just of me but the whole staff.”