Morse homers twice, Nats down Mets in spring opener

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - Good afternoon from Digital Domain Park, where the Nationals are about to start their 2011 spring schedule against the New York Mets. I’ll have game updates and analysis throughout the afternoon here, so keep checking this thread for the latest. Also, if you’ve got a question or an observation, leave it in the comments section, and I’ll get back to you there.

1:10 pm: We’re underway. First pitch to Nyjer Morgan is a strike from Mike Pelfrey.

1:12 pm: Ian Desmond smokes the first pitch he sees from Pelfrey, tripling to center on a ball Angel Pagan couldn’t catch, and Roger Bernadina singles to right. Nationals have a 1-0 lead, three batters in.

1:15 pm: Nationals are done in the first - Bernadina stole second, but Michael Morse and Matt Stairs grounded out to end the inning. A couple well-hit balls from Desmond and Bernadina put them on the board. Now we’ll see Chad Gaudin.

1:18 pm: Gaudin’s first pitch is a strike to Luis Castillo.

1:20 pm: Castillo strikes out swinging on a 2-2 fastball. There’s a radar gun on the scoreboard, but it’s a little hard to see from the press box.

1:22 pm: Well, so much for the lead. Gaudin threw Pagan a changeup on the outer half of the plate, and Pagan got it into the wind, which is blowing out to left. It cleared the left field fence, and we’re tied at 1.

1:28 pm: Gaudin strikes out Scott Hairston by dialing up a fastball to 93 mph. He struck out three in the first, but gave up three hits, including Pagan’s wind-aided homer, and the score is tied.

1:29 pm: 22 pitches, 16 strikes for Gaudin in the first. I’d think he’ll have one more inning.

1:34 pm: Castillo makes a sloppy attempt at what could have been a double play ball on Danny Espinosa, and WIlson Ramos (who had singled to start the second) goes to third. And Mets fans are booing Castillo already.

1:36 pm: Long sacrifice fly to center for Jerry Hairston Jr. 2-1 Nationals.

1:37 pm: Morgan tries to bunt his way on, and gets thrown out on his second attempt after fouling off the first one. He put a couple balls in the air on his first at-bat, too, and was hitting a bunch of fly balls in batting practice. It’s 2-1 Nats heading into the bottom of the second. The run was unearned.

1:42 pm: A ground rule double from Daniel Murphy, a single up the middle from Ruben Tejada and we’re tied again.

1:45 pm: Espinosa and Desmond turn their first double play of the spring, a 4-6-3 to retire Castillo and end the inning. Desmond’s throw to Kevin Barker was a little low and wide, but Barker dug it out. Gaudin threw 10 pitches, six of them strikes.

1:50 pm: Morse singles to left after Bernadina singled (sort of - I thought it was an error on a bad throw from Murphy), and the Nationals have runners on first and second with one out in the third.

1:53 pm: Stairs grounds into a double play to end the inning. We’re still tied at 2. Gaudin is back out for the bottom of the third.

1:59 pm: Jerry Hairston Jr. has to make a tough running throw, and it eats up Barker at first. E5, though other scorers might have seen it differently. Two outs for the Mets in the third.

2:01 pm: Gaudin freezes Fernando Martinez with a pitch on the outside corner for his fourth strikeout in three innings. He threw 15 pitches, 10 strikes in the inning, and will likely be done with 47 pitches and 32 strikes. Not bad for his first outing - he looked like he was about to get hit around a couple times, but got two strikeouts to end innings with men on base, and induced a double play in the second. We should see Craig Stammen next.

2:03 pm: Ramos stings the first pitch from D.J. Carrasco to left for a double. He’s got two hits today, and went to third on a throwing error by Carrasco. Ramos looks like he’s come to play today.

2:07 pm: Ramos scores on a fielder’s choice; Murphy fields a grounder at third, tries to throw home and Ramos slides under Mike NIckeas’ tag. It’s 3-2 Nationals in the fourth.

2:09 pm: Great bunt from Espinosa, batting left-handed and pushing one down the third-base line. He beat it out, and the Nationals have runners on first and second.

2:13 pm: Morgan grounds into a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning. He’s 0-for-3 now with a GIDP. Not a good start for him.

2:14: Stammen is in to pitch for the Nationals in the fourth, facing Scott Hairston.

2:17: Stammen walks Scott Hairston to start his day, then bounces one in the dirt for a wild pitch that advances Hairston to second.

2:23: On an 0-2 pitch with runners on first and third, Stammen comes over the plate to Tejada, who singles to right to tie the game again at 3.

2:27: Stammen gets out of the fourth by retiring Castillo and Pagan, but he wasn’t close to sharp in his first inning of work. We’re headed into the top of the fifth, with Desmond, Bernadina and Morse due up. If Stairs’ spot in the lineup comes up, that could be a spot for Bryce Harper.

2:30: Desmond takes one to right, doubling as Scott Hairston’s sliding attempt comes up short. He’s stung two balls for extra-base hits today. He was saying yesterday he’d found his swing, and so far today, that appears to be true.

2:33: Bernadina walks, Morse is at the plate and Stairs is still on deck. So if Harper is going to the DH’s spot, it apparently won’t happen in this inning.

2:37: A RBI single from Stairs puts the Nationals up 4-3. And Bryce Harper is in the game as a pinch runner, to a nice round of applause from Mets fans. Jesus Flores is also at the plate for his first at-bat in a game in almost two years.

2:41: Harper advanced to second on a pitch in the dirt, as Bernadina was thrown out. And then Flores popped to first, ending the inning. Corey Brown will come in for Morgan in center field, and Brian Bixler will replace Desmond at short.

2:45: Lucas Duda just lined a ball foul into the Nationals’ dugout. Harper was taking some practice swings, and just nonchalantly caught the ball with his bare right hand.

2:50: Stammen strikes out two in the fifth inning, rendering a Martinez double harmless. The Nationals would have to put together a big inning for Harper to bat in the sixth; otherwise, he’s scheduled to come up in the seventh.

2:53: Michael Aubrey is in at first base for the Nationals, and he grounds out to first off Jason Isringhausen.

2:54: Espinosa gets drilled in the foot with a pitch; he went to first after hopping around for a second, and appears to be fine.

2:57: Jerry Hairston grounds into a double play to end the sixth. Harper is due up fifth in the seventh.

3:10: Double for Bixler, and then Jeff Frazier hits a blooper to right. 5-3 Nationals now, and Harper is on deck. Sorry for the lull, by the way - after the wi-fi connection here started off well, it turned on me and proved to be almost as bad as the Space Coast Stadium wireless has been all spring. But I think it’s under control now.

3:13: Harper is coming to the plate, and if he’s going to drive in a run, he’ll have to homer. Morse just launched one out of here, and it’s now 7-3 Nationals.

3:15: Harper saw three pitches, swung at all of them, fouled off the first one and struck out on an off-speed pitch from Taylor Tankersley. Show’s over for today, boys and girls.

3:17: Looked like a slider that got Harper for strike three. And he’s wearing some eyeblack today, though not in warpaint style.

3:20: Doug Slaten is on to pitch the bottom of the seventh for the Nationals. Speaking of lefties, Tankersley has been nasty against them; he’s allowed a .223 average against them in his career, striking out 52 while walking 22. That’s a tough matchup for Harper at age 18, but one he’ll have to learn to deal with as he begins his career.

3:28: Former Nationals lefty Mike O’Connor is pitching for the Mets. He gets Michael Aubrey on a pop-up to begin the eighth before Alberto Gonzalez singles up the middle.

3:30: Nice jump for Gonzalez, who steals second on the lefty. The Nationals wanted him to get in better shape and run more.

3:34: The bullpen here is down the right field line, so there’s not a long run from there to the mound. I put my head down for a couple seconds, and missed Todd Coffey’s sprint to the mound.

3:40: Morse, playing over at third, makes a nice stop on a hard grounder and throws over to first to end the eighth. Harper is due up fourth, and he’s taking some hacks. Looks like the Nationals might leave him in. I’ll tell you this: He gets ready early. If there’s any chance he’s going to be up in an inning, Harper is getting loose.

3:45: Bixler walks, so barring a double play, Harper will get another at-bat.

3:48: And once again, it will come with no one on base. Morse jacked another one out of here, launching his second two-run shot of the day. This one went to right on Igarashi. It’s 9-3 Nats now, and Harper has taken his first two pitches.

3:49: Harper swings at an 86-mph pitch on a 1-2 count for strike three. He’ll finish 0-for-2 with a pair of Ks in his debut. Even in spring, learning this game at this level is tough.

3:57: Adam Carr is pitching the ninth for the Nationals, who lead 9-3 and will get their first spring win almost two weeks earlier than last year.

3:58: Nationals win 9-3. Gotta run downstairs. More in a little bit.