Harper won't elaborate on 'exactly why' 2016 was down year

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) Bryce Harper says he knows ''exactly why'' he went from NL MVP honors in 2015 to a decidedly less-successful 2016.

He's just not willing to share that reason.

Or at least he wasn't on Saturday, when he met with reporters a day before the Washington Nationals' first official full-squad workout of spring training.

''That's all last year. That's what you go through and you build and you grow and you try to maintain. And that's what I'm going to try to do again this year,'' Harper said, playing with a ball in his hands while talking. ''Try to just maintain what I can and do everything I can possible to help this team win. And I was (in the) lineup last year and tried to help this team win every single day.''

He hit only .243 with 24 homers and 86 RBIs for the NL East champions last season, significant drop-offs from the .330, 42 and 99 of a year earlier, when Harper became the youngest unanimous MVP in major league history.

Still only 24, the right fielder is already a four-time All-Star and was the NL Rookie of the Year in 2012.

Asked Saturday if he feels he can pinpoint why his production dipped in 2016, Harper began by responding, ''Yeah, I mean, I know exactly why.''

But then he danced around follow-up questions seeking specifics.

One example: Harper spoke about ''staying in the lineup'' last season as if it were a chore, but he did not say that he was injured.

''Tried to play 150 games last year,'' Harper said, adding that he would go to manager Dusty Baker to tell him he wanted to remain in the lineup.

Harper appeared in 147 games.

''I'd say, `Hey, man, how you feeling?' I could see him slowing down,'' Baker said. ''And there were some times I didn't have to lobby at all, because I said: `OK, man, we've got 15 days in a row. I'm going to try to give you Sunday off.' And he says, `I'll be ready to win the game, late in the game.' ... With certain guys, your horses come to play. That's why they're horses. I haven't had any trouble with Bryce. He's very easy to get along with. He's very respectful. He's very respectful of authority.''

Baker said he thinks he's got ''a pretty good handle'' on what went awry for Harper last season.

And the manager said he's spoken to Harper about the sorts of changes that are required of a hitter after teams try new ways of attacking him.

''The game is about constantly adjusting,'' Baker said. ''Let's face it: He's way ahead of most guys (24) years old.''

NOTES: Harper was asked about the Dallas Cowboys hat he was seen wearing at a wrestling event recently and when he entered Washington's clubhouse Friday, stirring up some interest in the nation's capital. ''I wear it every day. I do. I mean, I've always been a Cowboys fan, since I was 5 years old. And I'm a Duke fan. I'm a Laker fan,'' he said. ''I mean, I'm from Vegas, so I'll gamble on the best every single day, and that's what I do.'' ... Baker said no position players would be limited by injury for Sunday's opening workout.

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Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

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