MLB.com Columnist

Bill Ladson

Staying injury-free vital for Harper, Nationals

Staying injury-free vital for Harper, Nationals

JUPITER, Fla. -- Bryce Harper badly wants to go to the World Series and feels the Nationals have the team to make some noise in October.

Harper, 22, knows how important it is for the Nationals to win this year, because core players like Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister are free agents after the season.

"We have a great team right now, and we can possibly lose some guys next year," Harper said. "We want to play the games that we know how to play, do the things that we need to do to win ballgames. If we hit on all cylinders, we are going to win ballgames. It's going to be a lot of fun this year."

The Nationals are going into the season with a number of injuries, missing major players such as Anthony Rendon, Jayson Werth and Denard Span. The Nationals need Harper to step up on the field -- and he knows that, too. Heading into his fourth year in the big leagues, Harper is hoping to have his first injury-free season since 2012. The past two years, Harper missed more than 100 games because of knee and thumb injuries.

If he can stay healthy and get protection in the lineup, Harper is capable of having his first 30-homer and 100-RBI season. And if he can duplicate his October performance against the Giants last year, Harper could be the Nationals' version of Mr. October. Harper acknowledges he loves being in the spotlight and getting the attention in the postseason.

"A lot of people say I'm injury-prone, and I just laugh, because the two injuries that I had were fluke injuries," Harper said. "If I can stay healthy and not have injuries, play the game the right way, play it smart, then I'll be playing 155, 160 games. That's what I need to do. That's what I want to do."

Harper goes deep twice on OD

Harper feels so good right now that he feels like he is capable of stealing a lot of bases like he did in his rookie year.

"The past two years, I'm haven't stolen that many bags. My first year, I stole 18 bags," Harper said. "The last two years, I didn't feel comfortable on the bases because of my knee. When you slide into second base and you bang something, you are a little timid. This year, I feel great on the basepaths. My body feels great. I'm healthy. You'll see me steal a little bit more."

Harper feels so great that he wants to hold that World Series trophy in October.

"This team is a great team, we have a great pitching staff. We have guys who want to play, want to win. We are such a family in here," Harper said. "It's not going to be easy. The [National League] East is a very good division. I don't think people understand how good the East is. But we are a good team. It's going to be tough the first couple of months without our [main] guys, but we are looking forward to the challenge. We are excited to play in D.C. in front of our fans."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com 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.