VIERA, Fla. - While Bryce Harper was the Nats’ starting left fielder for the vast majority of last season, he essentially backed up Jayson Werth in right, starting 16 games out there, and also started eight games in center in place of Denard Span.
Harper’s versatility and arm strength allows him to play all three spots, and former Nats manager Davey Johnson took advantage of that, sliding Harper around the outfield as needed.
This year, new Nats manager Matt Williams says that for the most part, he wants to keep the everyday outfielders in their set positions. There might be some movement from one position to another at times, but expect Harper in left, Span in center and Werth in right the bulk of the time.
“I would like to leave him there,” Williams said of Harper in left. “Again, there are going to be days off for guys, so there may be opportunities for him in right, there may be opportunities for him in center, as well. But I would like for him to concentrate on playing left for now and see where we go with that. But there’s opportunities for him everywhere else, as well.
“But I like the construction of our outfield right now. I think Jayson’s a fantastic right fielder, Denard’s phenomenal in center and Bryce is pretty special in left. Does it mean they’re not gonna move around? No. But as we get started early on, anyway, I’m going to try and keep it that way and let them go play and get themselves in shape and ready to go.”
The Nats will also be aided by the fact that Nate McLouth is on board this year, and when Werth or Span need a day off, he can play either of those spots. Harper won’t be needed to move around as much this season because of the McLouth factor, as well.
Looking forward, there are those who believe that Harper will end up as the Nationals’ everyday right fielder sometime in the future, largely because of the arm strength he possesses. But Williams says that he likes Werth - who has played 849 career games in right field - in right.
“Right now, as it sits, we’re good,” Williams said. “We’ll maneuver and we’ll tinker from time to time, but I want them to get comfortable and play and let it all go and we’ll see where we’re at.”
One final note on Harper: Williams was asked by a reporter if there was anything about Harper that has surprised him at all in the handful of days that the two have been around each other so far.
“He talks more than I thought he would,” Williams said earnestly. “He talks a lot. He comes in the coaches’ room and sits down and talks the game. I think he’s a great student of the game. And he pays attention to those type of things, which is refreshing. It would be easy for a young player to kind of go into their own world, especially somebody like him. But he really understands the exterior around him. Wants to learn, wants to get better. So that’s really nice. That’s refreshing. We’ve talked more than I anticipated us talking in that regard, because he’s constantly asking questions, not only of me but the whole staff, which is great.”
Meanwhile, reliever Tyler Clippard threw a bullpen session today after missing the last six days due to discomfort in his back, and said that he came through it feeling good. Williams was there to watch the session, and liked what he saw.
“Looked great,” Williams said. “Was good. All of his pitches. Extended bullpen. He was good.”
Clippard won’t throw in the next two days, meaning he’ll miss out on the rest of the live BP sessions, but his spring schedule won’t be thrown off much by this minor back issue.
Reliever Ryan Mattheus went in for an MRI on his chest at around 4 p.m. to try and get a better read on what’s causing the pain that has kept him out of workouts since last Tuesday.
“It’s an interesting spot,” Williams said. “It’s kind of chest, front, which is odd. So we’re going to have to find out exactly what it is and then take the steps accordingly to get it taken care of. But at this point, we just don’t know have to have the doc read the results and see what we got. We’ll play that one by ear, but hopefully it’s just a couple weeks and he can get back at it.”
Williams also said that infielder Josh Johnson will see a doctor to get a sore wrist checked out. Johnson, in camp as a non-roster invitee, split last season between Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse.