Harper update, plus Williams on fifth starter competition and Moore’s playing time

TAMPA, Fla. - Bryce Harper was sent home yesterday after reporting to the Nationals’ spring training complex with what manager Matt Williams called “flu-like symptoms,” but Williams said that Harper was feeling much better today and wanted to make the trip to Tampa as part of today’s travel roster.

Williams held Harper back, allowing him to rest up today, but said that he plans to bring Harper with the team tomorrow when the Nats travel to Lake Buena Vista to face the Braves.

“After yesterday, I just told him to take another day and we’ll get back at it tomorrow,” Williams said.

Williams hadn’t gotten a report on Jayson Werth as of his meeting with reporters this morning, so he didn’t have much of an update on the right fielder’s status a day after Werth was scratched from the Nats’ lineup due to a right biceps strain.

Williams said yesterday that Werth’s biceps injury wasn’t considered serious, and that he just expected the 34-year-old to miss a day or two.

“He’ll go through a progression today, see where he’s at,” Williams said.

Ross Detwiler will make his spring debut today against the Yankees, and he’ll likely be followed to the mound by right-hander Tanner Roark. Both guys, along with Taylor Jordan, are candidates for the Nats’ fifth starter spot.

Both Roark and Jordan made strong impressions last season in their first taste of the big leagues, but one advantage that Detwiler has working in his favor as he battles for that final spot in the rotation is his experience. Detwiler has appeared in 85 big league games in his career (69 starts), compared to just 14 games for Roark (five starts) and nine games for Jordan (all starts).

How big of a factor is Detwiler’s experience as Williams evaluates the fifth starter candidates this spring?

“It factors in a lot,” Williams said. “He knows the league, he knows hitters. He’s been there. But again, we want to build everybody to be in that spot.”

At this point in spring, Williams mostly wants to see his starters get in their work, build up arm strength and focus on command. He won’t start really evaluating the fifth starter candidates, he says, until later on in spring.

“I think it takes time, certainly, through the course of spring,” Williams said. “Their innings pitched at this point certainly would be their starting line. So you can evaluate a little bit from there. But as you get second time through the order, potentially, as they start to increase their innings, you can get a better feel. ...

“So you get them into that four-inning threshold or that five-inning threshold, you can make a better evaluation. But right now, it’s just about building arm strength and getting them going. Once you get to the four, five innings spot where they can go out there and get tired and need to make pitches and all that stuff, then it’s a better evaluation.”

This will already be Tyler Moore’s third game played this spring, and that’s not by accident. The Nats want to give the first baseman a lot of playing time in Grapefruit League games in order to evaluate him and also get him grooving offensively. Moore had a strong 2012 season with the Nats, but struggled with his bench role in 2013 when he wasn’t getting consistent playing time.

“We all know as hitters that if you don’t have those consistent at-bats, it’s difficult to find timing, rhythm, all those things that we want at the plate,” Williams said. “So that’s the objective. So his track record is such that he’s proven at the big league level that he can be productive, and we want to give him every opportunity to prove that, certainly, and then potentially be on that. If he’s on the club, give him consistent at-bats within the season so that he can keep sharp. All of those factors come into play, but that’s the objective, that’s the plan.”

The question is, if Moore does make the Nats’ 25-man roster, how consistent will his at-bats be once the season begins? Adam LaRoche will be the Nats’ primary first baseman, and the Nats have talked about moving Ryan Zimmerman over to first on days when the opposing team is throwing a tough left-handed starter. That would seemingly limit the need for Moore, at least in the starting lineup.

“He can also play the outfield, he’s done that,” Williams said. “So there are spots to get him in the lineup and get him a four-AB day. We’ll certainly do that in spring and make sure that he’s working in both places, make sure that he gets some designated hitter work in spring training, as well. We’ll be able to evaluate it and see where we’re at.”

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