Game updates plus Harper, Desmond quotes (Mets top Nats 5-3)

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - Not much has changed from last year. Davey Johnson’s still getting plenty of use out of Craig Stammen’s right arm.

Stammen worked two innings this afternoon, throwing 39 pitches, and apparently will get a workload similar to that of the Nationals’ starters early in spring. Stammen allowed three hits and one run, knotting the game at 3-3 for a brief time.

It’s now 5-3 Mets here in the top of the eighth inning. With both teams emptying their benches and using minor leaguers almost exclusively at this point, they’ve ditched the lineups that were on the scoreboard earlier in the game, and have just a blank graphic with the name of whichever player is at the plate.

A few innings ago, when Eury Perez came in to replace Denard Span in centerfield, they had Perez listed as “Unknown” in the batting order.

Ah, spring training.

Battling for what could be the final spot in the Nationals bullpen, Bill Bray allowed two runs, one of which was unearned, in the fifth inning. He allowed three hits and walked a batter.

Bryce Harper finished the day 1-for-3 with a line drive single to right in the first inning and a hard-hit grounder to short in the third. He also made a heck of a catch - albeit a strange one - in the bottom of the third, when Kirk Nieuwenhuis’ fly ball bounced off his glove, then off his midsection, then back into his glove.

“I caught it, so I don’t care,” Harper said with a smirk. “Whatever, it’s an out.”

Not only did Harper single in his first at-bat of spring, he also smoked a lined shot just foul on the first pitch that came his way.

“I like swinging,” Harper said. “You guys know that. It was fun facing other guys, getting out there and competing. I like swinging early.”

Harper’s all-out mentality doesn’t really jive with manager Davey Johnson wanting guys to ease into the early part of spring, but Harper will be Harper.

“I need help with that a little bit,” he said. “I understand we have 35 games this spring but when I do play, I’m gonna play hard and try to be ready. I don’t have a low button or a middle button. It’s always go, go, go when I’m out on the field. So I’m gonna play like that, same as last year.”

I wrote earlier about how the Nationals will have to adjust to having guys in new spots defensively this year. With Harper in left and Denard Span now in center, those two, shortstop Ian Desmond and second baseman Danny Espinosa will have to work on their defensive communication.

Harper and Desmond had that tested in the second, when Lucas Duda’s pop fly brought Harper in and Desmond out on the ball. The two communicated well, however, as Harper called off Desmond and made a running grab.

“We’ve got me in left field with Morse out now, and I’ve got a little more speed than that,” Harper said. “So I can get to that ball and Denard can get to that ball, and it’s that Bermuda Triangle area that we need to communicate in a lot, and really call it early so you don’t run into each other or drop that ball.”

Said Desmond: “(Harper’s) a big kid, but he’s no Morse, so I’m not quite as scared of running into him as I was of Morse. He’s obviously a very good outfielder. He got so much better last year and I think he’s just going to continue to progress. Having him in left being able to cover a ton of ground, and Denard in center, there won’t be too many balls I’ll have to go for over my head. That’s good for me, obviously for my body. That’s really good.

“Today was a good indication. I went back, I thought I got a good break on the ball but he called me off. It went seamlessly, which is really what you want. Today was great. He didn’t feel timid or shy to call me off. He was loud and (authoritative), so I think it’s going to be pretty seamless.”

Update: It’s a final - the Mets beat the Nationals 5-3.

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