LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - Despite being quoted as saying he doesn't think he has a good chance to make the Nationals' 25-man opening day roster, Bryce Harper said tonight that his goal remains the same: Start the season in a big league uniform.
A Tuesday story on CBSSports.com had Harper quoted as saying that he would "probably not" be able to make the Nationals' 25-man squad to begin the year after missing six days with a left calf injury.
Harper returned to the Nats' lineup tonight, and after the game he said he still has his eyes set on the majors, even having missed nearly a week of action due to his calf.
"Absolutely," Harper said. "Yesterday, I don't know what happened with that (report), but I'm for sure trying to make this club. I want to frickin' go up there and try to win, and I've never had the mentality to say, 'Probably not' or, 'I don't want to make the club.' I'm shooting to be one of the top 25 guys on the team and get up to D.C. and try to win. That's my main goal."
Harper seemed unsure of whether he was misquoted in the CBSSports.com article, but he steadfastly said that he believes he can end up heading north with the Nationals at the end of camp.
Tonight's return to game action was a smooth but uneventful one for Harper, who got the start in center field (his first start anywhere other than in right field this spring) but saw minimal action defensively. Harper made two putouts, including one where he nearly collided with right fielder Eury Perez after drifting far to his left to make a grab, and went 0-for-2 with a walk.
Harper said he was excited to get word from manager Davey Johnson before the game that he'd be manning center field - his favorite outfield position - tonight.
"I like center field a lot," Harper said. "It's a lot easier to play out there, just the angles to the ball and everything like that, seeing the whole field. It's one of my favorite spots, so it's good to get out there. I felt good."
Harper reported no issues with the left calf following the game, despite pushing things a bit tonight by booking it down the line to try and beat out an infield grounder and tagging from second to third on a fly ball.
"I just wanted to test it a little bit," Harper said. "It felt good. No pain, nothing like that. Didn't grab me at all. So hopefully we're back at 100 percent. ... It felt good a couple days ago, but I just didn't want to push it. I understand where they were coming from. I made the right decision and came back tonight and felt good."
The layoff has been tough on Harper, who joked that his "ADD kicked in there" as he had to watch the action from the bench the last week. Harper has been nagging at his manager almost nonstop the last few days, trying to get Johnson to slot him back in the lineup, and finally the pestering paid off, as the 19-year-old went through a full workout without incident yesterday and was inserted in the lineup today.
Assuming Harper doesn't suffer a day-after-game setback with the calf, he'll be in the Nats' lineup tomorrow against the Yankees, and will also travel to Tampa to face New York again Friday. The opposing pitchers in those two games are two of the top arms in the American League - Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia.
"Oh, man. That's going to be fun," Harper said with a smile. "Even Pineda tomorrow. He's going to be fun to face tomorrow, and it's going to be crazy to have CC, a frickin' train coming at ya. He's kinda big on the bump."