Bill Ladson

Harper says he has to 'step up' for Nationals

Slugging outfielder looks to leave thumb injury in past

Harper says he has to 'step up' for Nationals

VIERA, Fla. -- Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper wants to improve his numbers from last year. He made it clear Sunday that he wants to stay injury-free and he would like to get better at the plate.

Although he missed 62 games because of a thumb injury, Harper put up respectable numbers, hitting .273 with 13 home runs, 32 RBIs and a .344 on-base percentage. He also was the team's best player in the National League Division Series, hitting three home runs in the four games against the Giants. However, after returning from his injury on June 30, Harper struck out 83 times in 269 at-bats. He acknowledged that he was overzealous after coming off the disabled list.

"I have to see what [pitchers] are going to do to me, see how they approach me, really just working my pitch and not go out of my comfort zone," said Harper, 22. "If I can do that, stay within myself and have a little bit of fun at the plate, that will go a long way."

A healthy Harper is key to the Nationals' offense. With Adam LaRoche no longer on the team, Harper is the only slugger on the team with power from the left side of the plate. Harper said he is up to the challenge.

"I'll help out for sure," Harper said. "After losing LaRoche, I have to step up a little bit. I have to do what I need to do. Our pitching is going to take us to the top, hopefully, but we still have to have offense. We have to do the things we need to do. I'm ready to go. I'll be feeling good."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.