VIERA, Fla. - For a 19-year-old who at times has battled maturity issues - who among us didn't in our teens? - and had legitimate intentions of winning a spot on the Nationals' opening day roster, Bryce Harper appeared to handle his demotion to Triple-A Syracuse pretty darned well.
Talking with reporters shortly after being informed that he was being sent over to minor league camp, Harper was clearly disappointed with the news, but seemed determined to grow in his upcoming time at the minor league level.
"It sucks, of course, but I'll go down there and work hard," Harper said. "Of course, you want to come in here and make the team every year. Hopefully that's the last time I'll get sent down. I wasn't expecting it, but it's OK."
Harper was able to crack a smile a few times in his talk with reporters, joking that when - not if - he started 2-for-20 in the big leagues (because he struggles early in his stint at any level he plays), he didn't want everyone to be all over him suggesting he wasn't ready for the major leagues and needed more seasoning.
"I don't want to do that," Harper said. "And then they send me down to Triple-A, and I go 2-for-20 again, and they go, 'What are you doing?' So hopefully, I can get up there and do the right things after I go to Syracuse."
Harper got off to a strong start this spring, going 5-for-11 to start the Grapefruit League campaign. But after missing six games with a left calf injury, Harper struggled in his return to game action.
As he packed his bags in the Nats' clubhouse late this afternoon, Harper was the owner of a .286 average (8-for-28), with two doubles, 11 strikeouts and two walks, and he heads over to the minor league side knowing that he's got some stuff to work on.
"My swing wasn't where it was supposed to be," he said. "My hands were a little out of whack and my body was a little out of whack from the (Arizona Fall League). Felt very good in the AFL this year, and I'm trying to get back to that. The last couple games, I think I got back to it a little bit, and I'm just taking it as best I can. Go down there and work on my at-bats and work on my hands and stuff like that."
Harper said he learned a lot from his time in big league camp, mainly from spending time around veteran outifelders Jayson Werth and Jason Michaels. He got some more game experience in center field, saw some high-quality big league arms (CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda, to name two) and got acclimated to a major league clubhouse.
Now he just hopes to perform well enough at Syracuse to be back in the bigs in the not-too-distant future.
"I just want to go down there and get on my groove, get on a streak and get called up and hopefully be a game-changer for the Nationals," Harper said. "I think we're a contender, even if I'm not on the club. It's going to be a great thing for me to go down, get better, and then come back up and hopefully help out the club. I want that. I want to go up there and really help out."