Having arrived in Viera with a bulked-up physique, Bryce Harper this spring is 5 for 30 with one extra-base hit, a home run. Thursday afternoon against reigning Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, Harper struck out twice and popped up to the left side of the infield.
Manager Matt Williams sees Harper being overly aggressive with his swing, trying to force his power rather than allowing it to happen. But, really, the only thing Williams cares about with Harper is health. He valued the fitness of Harper’s surgically repaired left knee far more than he worried about his numbers.
“He’s just a little hippy right now,” Williams said. “His front hip is leaking a little bit. He’s a little jumpy right now. That’s typical spring training stuff, when you start feeling good.
“I’m encouraged with Bryce that he’s felt good all spring. Because that was a question mark coming in. That’s where I’m encouraged. I’m not worried about his swing. I’m not worried about him playing defense. As long as he feels good, those numbers will be there and he’ll continue to produce.”
** Reliever Ryan Mattheus, shut down during the first week of workouts with a pulled muscle in his chest, made his spring debut with a 1-2-3 seventh inning. He yielded line-drive outs to the first two batters he faced, then retired the last batter he faced with a strikeout.
Williams admitted what become clear. Mattheus will not have enough to recover and build arm strength to make the opening day roster. Williams wants his relievers to throw eight innings in spring training games, and Mattheus has thrown only one.
“It’s going to be hard,” Williams said. “He just simply hasn’t been able to do that. It’ll be hard for him to get going. We want to push him as much as he can be pushed from now until the end. But it’s going to be very difficult for him to get that many.”
** Blake Treinen, the fireballing right-hander whose strong spring allowed him to last until the final week, is scheduled to be the second reliever into the Nationals’ game tomorrow in Jupiter against the Cardinals. That’s another sign that the Nationals are yet ready to rule him out for the last spot in the bullpen.
“He’s in camp because he’s pitched well,” Williams said. “He’s simply an option. So we’re going to give him an opportunity and then another one and see where he’s at, and make our decisions from there. The reason he’s still here is because he’s pitched really well.”
** Williams on what he had to say to Zach Walters this morning after he got cut: “That he’s very close. Very close. I encouraged him make sure, on an everyday basis, that he leaves his at-bats in the dugout when he goes to the field. That’s important for a young player. It’s hard to do, because we’re all human. He’s on the verge of being a very good, everyday big leaguer. I was encouraged by his spring. I was encouraged by the way he competed. We saw all these things about Zach – about his power, and his running ability, and all that. What will keep him in the big leagues is his ability to play defense. That was a point of emphasis this morning. He needs to concentrate on that.”