Bryce Harper wasn’t biting. Try as reporters did to pull something quotable out of the 24-year-old former NL MVP, who’s coming off a down year in 2016, Harper wouldn’t do it.
In his first meeting with reporters since his fifth major league season ended, the 2010 No. 1 overall pick talked about his offseason workouts, his marriage this winter, the up and down nature of hitting in the majors and more, but he didn’t offer any of the sort of controversial statements he’s made in the past.
For example: Harper was asked about New York Mets’ starter Noah Syndergaard’s one-word response to an Instagram post which featured Harper decked out in Ohio State gear in the lead-up to the Buckeyes’ appearance in the Fiesta Bowl.
Syndergaard was less than flattering in sharing his thoughts on Harper’s apparent front-running... or, you know, nod to his wife’s alma mater.
Asked about the “incident” on Saturday, however, Harper refused to take the bait.
“Syndergaard does what he does and the Mets do what they do,” Harper said.
“We’re going to worry about what we do in our clubhouse and do everything we can to win ballgames and hopefully have a better record than any team in major league baseball.”
And that Dallas Cowboys cap Harper was spotted wearing on WWE’s Monday Night Raw last week?
Harper has acknowledged being a Cowboys fan before, since he was a kid, but that did not stop people from commenting on the fact that he supports a rival ballclub while playing in D.C.
“I wear it every day, I do,” Harper said. “I’ve always been a Cowboys fan since I was 5 years old. I’m a Duke fan, a Lakers fan. I mean, I’m from Vegas. I gamble on the best every single day. That’s what I do.”
Then there are the rumors that Harper, who finished the 2016 season at 3.5 fWAR with 24 home runs, 24 doubles, 112 wRC+ and a .243/.373/.441 line, down from 9.5 fWAR, 38 doubles, 42 home runs, 197 wRC+ and a .330/.460/.649 in 2015, was playing injured last year.
Harper was asked if he figured out why he struggled last season, after he picked up where he left off in 2015 in April, but dropped off soon after the first month.
“I know exactly why,” Harper told reporters, “.... but that’s all last year and that’s what you go through and you build and you grow and you try to maintain and that’s what I’m going to try to do again this year, try to just maintain what I can and do everything possible to help this team win. I stayed in the lineup last year and tried to help this team win every single day and that’s your goal every single day.”
He “stayed in the lineup”... does that mean he was... forget it, no one’s talking.
Nationals’ skipper Dusty Baker said he and his charge discussed what went wrong at the plate for Harper in his fifth major league campaign.
“I think I covered this already,” Baker began. “You’re in the big leagues and these guys aren’t going to just let you keep beating on them, they’re going to make adjustments and now it’s up to you to make counter-adjustments. I’ve got a pretty good handle on it I think and I’ve shared it with him. And that’s part of growing up, man, it’s part of growing up in the big leagues.”
“They have videos, they have different things that they’re looking for,” Baker continued.
“Different kryptonites, you know, to combat a person. The greats of the game, there’s nothing that hasn’t been tried on those guys. They see if he can hit a fastball away, okay. They see if you can hit a fastball in. Then they’re going to see if you can hit sliders and they’re going to see if they can intimidate you and they’re going to see how you hit the changeup. The game is about constantly adjusting, and let’s face it, he’s way ahead of most guys that are 23 years old.
“I don’t think — you look at everybody’s bubble gum card and there are some years in there that aren’t going to be what your career numbers are...”
Harper was asked if, as a student of the game, he spent time this winter studying film from last year, trying to determine what the issues were.
“No, not really,” Harper said. “I really just tried to maintain what I could this offseason and do everything I could to feel good and get better. Do everything I could to finish that process of December, January and February and I was able to maintain for three months and do everything I could to work out on the field and work out in the gym and just get ready like any normal offseason.”
Baker was asked why he was confident Harper will bounce back from his down year.
“Confidence,” Baker said. “I don’t think he’s ever been lacking in confidence. Even when he wasn’t hitting a lick, he had confidence. Confidence is something that will take you through areas where you’ve never been before. He’s been hitting since he was two. You lose confidence in a few months, that’s not true confidence.
“I’m not worried about Bryce, I think he’ll learn from it and when he’s in that situation again of getting in a hole, he’ll know how to get out of that hole a lot quicker.
“I don’t know anyone who’s gone his whole career without getting in a hole, it doesn’t happen.”
Harper said he’s ready to get going on his sixth major league campaign, and what could be his next-to-last season in the nation’s capital if he opts for free agency after 2018.
“I feel great,” he said. “I feel really good. I think I’m ready for this year and ready to hopefully stay on the field every single day. That’s the key, staying on the field and playing 155-160 games and that’s what I want to do.”
About the possibility of Harper leaving D.C. as a free agent after the 2018 campaign?
As he gets closer to free agency, how does he stay focused on the now, or does he look ahead?
“I think we got a group of guys to win and that’s our biggest goal here: You want to win every single day and not look ahead, not look behind,” Harper said.
“Live in that moment and live in that day. Being a Washington National, I love it. I enjoy playing in the city of D.C. and I enjoy the fans. I enjoy the organization so much. Mr. and Mrs. Lerner gave me the opportunity, when I was 17 years old, to play Major League Baseball. I remember [General manager Mike] Rizzo coming out and watching me play at CSN [College of Southern Nevada], him seeing me for the first time, him and Bob Boone. They gave me that opportunity and I’m going to play these next two years out, and beyond that, I really don’t care. I just want to play these two years, and have some fun, hopefully win and do everything we can for the city of D.C. Bring that trophy back, hopefully. It’s a very monumental town, so if we can do some things, it’ll be a lot of fun.”
This kid is good.