“That’s hilarious to me (when people say he is injury prone) because I’ve never blown a hammy or a shoulder or anything like that, knock on wood,” Harper said. “But it’s more impact stuff. Hitting the wall, blowing the bursa. Sliding into third base on a triple and tearing my tendon. So, this year, I’ll just play a little smarter. Try to do the things I need to do to help this team win. Still have that edge, still have that fire that I play with and enjoy the game.”
Harper entered camp leaner than he did last year, attributing his slimmer build to the fact that injuries limited his ability to train his lower half last season. With the ability to do more cardio work and move through repetitions faster, Harper says he added to his strength while maintaining the weight at which he wants to play. This season, he will move from left field to right — a position, he pointed out, that requires a much shorter run from the dugout. That route aside, right field is generally a more demanding position on the legs and in terms of throws required. It is also the position at which a charging Harper collided with a wall in 2013, an impact that led to his knee issues that season. Still, he says he doesn’t think playing smart and playing his naturally aggressive way are mutually exclusive, nor difficult to balance.
“It’s not difficult at all, I don’t think,” he said. “Going in, you just gotta play, you gotta play your game, but knowing the spots. You know, when you hit a three-run triple, do you really need to get on third base or do you need to stand on the double? You gotta be as smart as you can. If you’re up 7-0, do you really need to go get a foul ball in the stands and blow your chin out or do something like that? It’s just those situations. I can still play hard. I can still do the things I wanna do. That’s what makes it fun. Being able to go out there and play hard and do the things we need to do to help this team win and hopefully make this city proud.”
Understanding the differences between what he can do, what he can’t do, and what he should do is part of the maturation process for Harper, a two-time all-star entering his 22-year-old season. Manager Matt Williams says he expects a (slightly) older, wiser Harper to continue his development this season.
“Well, he’s changing positions. So that’s first and foremost a new challenge, because it’s on the other side of the diamond. He’s played there before, but he doesn’t have a lot of reps there. So that’s part of the process there,” Williams said. “I think offensively he is poised to take all the next appropriate steps that he needs to take. He’ll get better in all aspects of his offense. That comes with experience, knowing the league, knowing himself better, all of those things. And then beyond that, in the clubhouse he can become certainly more of a leader and help our team along the way. So all of those things combined, he’ll take those appropriate steps this year and have a great year for us.”
Williams said that with Adam LaRoche gone, Harper assumes more importance as the team’s most potent full-time lefty in the lineup. He says he doesn’t want to put more pressure on Harper by locking him in as the key piece in the center of the lineup, preferring to “free his mind” and let him play his game.
“…when he does that and when he frees his mind up, he’s really, really good,” Williams said. “That’s what I look for.”
MATT WILLIAMS’S QUOTE OF THE DAY:
“The road to the World Series begins today.”