VIERA, Fla. - After having a rain delay of at least an hour disrupt two of the Nationals’ last three games, it looks like we’re in the clear for today’s 1 p.m. game against the Marlins at Space Coast Stadium.
That is, unless I’ve jinxed us. If it starts pouring this afternoon, I’ll have no one to blame but myself.
Dan Haren will get the ball today for his first spring start in a Nationals uniform. After a recent live batting practice session in which Haren was admittedly a bit too amped up, manager Davey Johnson told the veteran right-hander to take things easy early this spring.
Haren got an extra day of rest in between that live batting practice and his next bullpen session, which was Sunday, but it will be interesting to see how he approaches his outing today. Will he use his full repertoire and really attack hitters on the right side of the plate (which has been a focus for Haren this spring) or just focus on getting in his work without overexerting himself?
Craig Stammen, Zach Duke and Drew Storen are among the pitchers who are also scheduled to get in today’s game against the Marlins.
For the first time this spring, the Nationals will have their full starting outfield in the lineup today. Jayson Werth will make his Grapefruit League debut, Denard Span will be in center, and after talking his way into today’s lineup, Bryce Harper will be in left.
Some position players don’t like seeing too much game action in spring. They feel they might end up peaking too early or wearing down their body to the point they don’t have enough stamina to play a full 162-game regular season schedule, plus playoffs.
Harper is not one of those players. The 20-year-old doesn’t care that it’s February. He sees his teammates playing, and he wants in on the action.
“I just like to hit,” Harper said. “As long as I’m in the lineup, if it’s DH or anything like that. I need some reps in left field also. It’s just as much as (Johnson) wants to play me. I’ll probably play five innings and get my two or three ABs and be done. That’s a pretty good schedule for me. Two days, one day off. Three days on, one day off. I really don’t care. It doesn’t matter.”
Harper specifically talked his way into today’s game because both Span and Werth will be in there, giving the three outfielders a chance to work on their communication in a game setting. At the plate, Harper has started spring on a tear, going 6-for-8 with two doubles to begin the Grapefruit League campaign, but he shrugs off any talk of him being in midseason form.
“I faced a couple good guys, but they’re not at full bore and I know that,” he said. “Facing (yesterday’s starter, Mike) Minor during the season and facing him right now is a little bit different. He’s definitely a little bit sharper during the season. He’s got good stuff right now but it’s always better during the season and you’re going to face a lot of guys that are going to get better during the season.”
Harper says his focus during spring games specifically lies on squaring up as many pitches as he can, taking good routes on balls hit his way in left field, hitting the cut-off man (which he did successfully yesterday) and improving his jumps on the basepaths.
While he started the regular season in Triple-A Syracuse last year, Harper comes this spring knowing he’s got a set spot in the Nationals’ lineup. The key, he says, is not ever feeling relaxed or comfortable.
“I never want to be that way,” Harper said.
That said, it can be a plus for Harper, knowing what team he’ll be playing for and what position will occupy much of his time while in the field. Harper might not want to feel comfortable, but it’s probably fair to assume that he’s more settled now than he was at any point during his rookie season.
“I feel good going into camp this year and it’s good to know that (Johnson has) already pretty much said, ‘You’re going to be my everyday left fielder,’ ” Harper said. “So I like that feeling going into every single game. But you still have to work and compete and try to get better every day and that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to try to get my ABs in and try to see as many pitches as I can and just try to barrel up as much as I can without the results. I really don’t care about the results right now as long as I’m barreling stuff up and doing the right things out there that I need to do.”