Nationals' Slugger Bryce Harper Talks Matt Williams, Babe Ruth, Tough Lefties

Bryce Harper said today that his knee is fine and he's looking forward to testing it in Spring Training action. - Photo © and courtesy @Nationals on Twitter

Bryce Harper is in camp with the Washington Nationals and working towards being 100% by Opening Day. Harper said today the knee pain is behind him and he's excited about getting to know new manager Matt Williams as he gets ready for his third major league campaign.

The last time Bryce Harper spoke to reporters, at NatsFest in late January, the Washington Nationals' 21-year-old outfielder was excited about having started to really run again on his surgically-repaired left knee.

"There's nothing that's hurting. I have no balkiness in there or anything like that. Mobility is very good. I have no pain and that's biggest thing." - Bryce Harper on how his knee feels in Spring Training

In October, the 2010 no.1 overall draft pick had surgery to debride and repair the bursa sac in the knee which caused him trouble throughout his second major league season in 2013 and cost him over a month on the DL.

"I sprinted for the first time about three weeks ago," Harper said then. "That was awesome."

He did say today, however, that after the surgery it took a few months until he felt completely comfortable.

"Probably January 1st," Harper said. "That's when I really started pushing it and really putting it to the limit. I started leg presses and I'm leg-pressing 500 lbs and I'm getting back to where I need to be and ladders and step-ups and box jumps and everything that I need to be doing, I'm doing."

With a few more weeks of work as he prepared for Spring Training, Harper said after the second day of workouts at the Nationals' facilities, that he's happy to finally be healthy.

"There's nothing wrong with it," Harper said of his knee. "I'm good. I'm solid. I'm solid as can be. My ACL, meniscus, MCL, everything is solid and very, very good. I mean, I saved about 90% of my bursa. I mean, that's incredible."

And he doesn't think it's something that will linger either, now that it has been repaired.

"I'll have no bone-on-bone contact or anything like that," he said. "My knee is completely fine."

"I feel good," Harper told reporters. "There's nothing that's hurting. I have no balkiness in there or anything like that. Mobility is very good. I have no pain and that's biggest thing."

"I'm excited to start games and feel how it feels when I slide and run and hit in games and just that feel on there is going to help me get past some things." - Bryce Harper on getting going in Spring Training

It took a lot of hard to get to this point though.

"We worked hard all offseason. I worked my tail off to get to this point," Harper explained. "I feel like I'm where I need to be. I'm excited to start games and feel how it feels when I slide and run and hit in games and just that feel on there is going to help me get past some things and feel good about it."

Harper's already at it, and what he's doing now in Florida isn't much different than what he's done over the last few weeks. "I've been doing outfield stuff. I've been running bases and I've been hitting a lot," Harper said.

He's also been getting to know new Nationals' manager Matt Williams after veteran skipper Davey Johnson guided him through his first two major league seasons. Harper said today he's impressed with what he's seen from Williams so far.

"He's out here to get better," Harper said. "To work hard and do things the right way every single day and we're very happy and looking forward to this year. He's got that bulldog mentality and we're excited to have something that's going to help us this year."

Williams is also running what is described by everyone following the first few days of Spring Training as a very organized and structured camp, which appeals to Harper.

"I like coming in here with a plan and knowing what I need to do every single day to get better." - Bryce Harper on Spring Training with Matt Williams

"I love it. I absolutely love it," he said. "I like coming in here with a plan and knowing what I need to do every single day to get better." He also likes having the chance to run things by and learn from another manager with major league experience. "I'm going to pick his mind," Harper said, "and see what he thinks about some things and see what I can learn from him."

"He gets the game," Harper said of Williams. "He understands from playing so close to where we're at now and being able to manage and [coach] for the Diamondbacks. It's nice to be able to have a young guy in there doing things and working hard and having that enthusiasm of being here every single day and wanting to win and wanting to have a plan and work hard."

Harper said it's a trend that he's seen elsewhere around baseball.

"I think that there [are] a lot of teams trying to go to that," he told reporters. "I think it starts with [Mike] Matheny and [Brad] Ausmus and a lot of guys. Matheny has had so much success in St. Louis and it's nice to have a guy that understands everything here."

As for what he wants to work on as he prepares for this season? "I just want to have good ABs and try to get my strikeouts down again and my walks up," Harper said. "I think I did a pretty good job of that last year. Being a lot more patient."

After posting a .240/.300/.415 line with six doubles, four triples and six home runs in 202 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers in 2012, Harper put up a .214/.327/.321 with eight doubles and two home runs in 158 PAs against lefties last season. When asked today, however, he wasn't willing to blame his struggles on his knee.

"I've hit lefties pretty good my whole life," Harper said. "I faced some pretty damn good lefties, so if anyone wants to come and face Aroldis Chapman they can, they can do it for me. Because, I mean that's pretty rough. I'm going to get better every year. I'm going to figure out what guys are doing, pick some people's heads about it."

Matt Williams said he might also sit Harper against particularly tough lefties as a way to get him games off throughout the season. Right now though, the new Nats' skipper is just concerned with making sure Harper is healthy.

"Babe Ruth ran into a wall in D.C. in 1920-something and knocked himself out, so I'm in pretty damn good company right there." - Bryce Harper on hearing enough about running into walls

"We have to get him on these fields," Williams said, "and make sure that he can go every day. So that being said, we anticipate he's 100% healthy. I think he is. And he's ready go for Spring Training. We'll monitor that, and then we'll get into the season."

Now if Harper can just avoid running into any more --

Enough with the "running into walls" jokes. Harper said today he's heard them all.

"Every single day I went into therapy, somebody said, 'Hey, don't run into a wall," Harper admitted. Next time? "I'm just going to go right through it again," he joked. Besides, he's not the first player to collide with a wall.

"Babe Ruth ran into a wall in D.C. in 1920-something and knocked himself out, so I'm in pretty damn good company right there."

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