- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 18, 2017

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Fiddling with a ball throughout his first meeting with the media at spring training, Bryce Harper delivered the news everyone had been waiting for. Well, in part.

Harper said Saturday morning that he knows “exactly” what went wrong last season when his production took a significant dip from his unanimous MVP season in 2015. Then, he evaded naming specifics.

“Yeah, I mean, I know exactly why, you know,” Harper said. “But that’s all last year. 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 I can possible to help this team win. And I was in the lineup last year and tried to help this team win every single day. That’s your goal every single day. [Daniel] Murphy had an MVP season. I was able to hit behind him all year long. That was a lot of fun for me. To be able to see that and see him perform.

“Everybody asks, ‘What was your favorite thing last year?’ It was watching Murph play. [Murphy] and Trea [Turner]. Seeing them do what they did and Murph coming out and doing it every single day, and Trea as well. We’ve got two MVP-caliber players in there with Trea and Murph, so it’s going to be a lot of fun to hit behind them again this year hopefully, or hit in front of Murph, maybe, get a little protection by him. So we’ll see. It’s fun to see. I’m excited to be a part of it and be part of a great club and hopefully win a championship.”

Harper put together staggering numbers in 2015 when he was named the National League’s unanimous MVP. He hit 42 home runs and finished with a 1.109 OPS. It was the kind of season Harper was projected to have since he was a Sports Illustrated cover boy at the age of 16.

He started April of 2016 in the same way he ended 2015. He hit nine home runs, began stealing more bases and carried a hefty 1.120 OPS in the season’s opening month. His play declined from there.

By the time August arrived, Harper was coming off a month in which he hit .176. A report from Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated — the reporter who wrote SI’s cover story on the teenage Harper and is not in the business of breaking injury news — reported that Harper had a shoulder injury. Harper was non-committal when asked yes-or-no questions about the report last season. Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo was adamant the report was not accurate, citing conversation he had with Harper.

Saturday, Harper made several indications he was playing through injury last season, though he never went into specifics or used the word. He was asked what he meant when he said he knew “exactly” what went wrong.

“I think just playing and doing everything the right way every single day and staying in the lineup,” Harper said. “You want to do that. That’s what I did every single day — I stayed in the lineup, tried to play 150 games last year. I went into [manager] Dusty [Baker] and wanted to play every single day. I was able to do that and able to help this team hopefully perform and that’s what I’m going to do every single day this year.”

Harper said his offseason was busy and fruitful. He was married — several teammates attended as did the principal owner of the team, Ted Lerner, and his wife, Annette — and did his typical workouts, including yoga, in December, January and February.

As this season begins, Harper begins to inch toward becoming a free agent. Despite that being two years away, it has been a topic for the two prior to this season and will only become more of one as he heads toward what could be a record payday. He said he is not looking ahead.

“Being a Washington National, I love it,” Harper said. “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 an opportunity when I was 17 years old to play Major League Baseball. I remember Rizzo coming out to watch me play at CSN. Him seeing me for the first time, him and Bob Boone. 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 and hopefully win and do everything we can for the city of D.C., bring that trophy back hopefully, and it’s a very monumental town, so if we can do some things, it will be a lot of fun.”


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