Could Harper hit against Strasburg on Sunday?

VIERA, Fla. - Bryce Harper mashed a couple of pitches over the fence in right-center field during his first live batting practice session of spring training on Saturday. But he was quick to point out that the long home runs came off a spring training instructor - or what manager Davey Johnson has called “dead arm pitchers,” who threw today instead of his regular hurlers, who got the day off from throwing.

And then there were the gusty 20-25 mph winds, blowing out, which helped lift balls further than they might go.

“The wind helps you out a little bit,” Harper said. “I don’t know. I swear a couple of balls, some of them should have went out and some of them shouldn’t have,”

But getting a chance to hit live pitching in a controlled settling was a step forward for Harper, who will have to demonstrate he can handle big league pitchers if he wants to break camp with the Nationals in April.

“It felt good out there today,” Harper said. “It was probably the best I felt in the past week. Start today and get going. It feels pretty good.”

Harper was eager to turn it loose, even though he’s been working out in preparation for spring training.

“The minute I get out there, I flip a switch and I get going,” he said. “It doesn’t take me as long as most.”

The challenge will get tougher Sunday when Nationals pitchers replace the dead arms, and the group Harper is part of will face a group of pitchers that includes right-hander Stephen Strasburg, meaning the first overall pick in the 2009 draft could be pitching to the first overall pick from the 2010 draft.

There’s no guarantee that Strasburg will be pitching for his group when Harper will be hitting for his group, but the possibility adds some spice to an otherwise routine second day of full-squad workouts.

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