Johnson on Harper, Gonzalez, Storen and Mattheus

KISSIMMEE, Fla. - Prior to today, I can’t recall ever seeing a left fielder make a throw all the way to first base because a runner had made a wide turn around the bag.

Perhaps not surprisingly, it was Bryce Harper who gave that throw a shot this afternoon, firing a strike about 250 feet from medium-depth left field to Tyler Moore at first, in an attempt to nab Astros first baseman Brandon Laird, who had ventured about 25 feet off the base.

Harper’s toss was strong and right on the money, but it skipped away from Moore, who couldn’t have possibly seen that throw coming.

“I was waiting on one,” manager Davey Johnson joked after the game. “You can’t keep (Harper) bottled up.”

Johnson wasn’t all that upset about Harper’s aggressive play, but he did say it wasn’t a wise move, because there’s no one backing up first base in that situation. Tony Tarasco, who is the Nationals’ first base coach but also instructs the outfielders, had a talk with Harper in the dugout after the inning.

Good luck getting Harper to avoid showcasing his cannon of an arm now that he’s in left, guys.

Gio Gonzalez threw three scoreless innings today, but outside of his outing, Johnson didn’t like much of what he saw from his pitchers in today’s 4-2 loss.

First, here are Johnson’s thoughts on Gonzalez, who allowed three hits and a walk and struck out three in his three frames:

“Gio threw the ball good,” Johnson said. “Had to cut him a little short because of the World Baseball Classic, but he went about 15-20 pitches down in the bullpen. Felt great. (Command) looked good. He threw some good curveballs and some good changes off the fastball and had pretty good location. So I was pleased.”

Johnson said he feels Gonzalez is ready for his WBC start for Team USA, which will come March 12, assuming the Americans make it to the second round of the tourney.

Ross Ohlendorf relieved Gonzalez and allowed two runs on three hits and a walk in his three frames.

“He was a little rusty today,” Johnson said of the veteran right-hander. “He wasn’t as sharp as he was the last time out. He was a little bit all over the place. He threw the ball all right, but typical spring training game.”

Drew Storen pitched a scoreless seventh, but he allowed two hits to go along with his two strikeouts.

“He was a little up (in the zone), he was dropping his elbow and getting underneath some pitches,” Johnson said. “He’s not quite there yet.”

After the Nats knotted the score at 2-2 in the eighth on Michael Taylor’s two-run single to left, Ryan Mattheus gave up two runs in the bottom half of the frame, and the Astros held on for the win.

“He was fighting himself out there,” Johnson said of Mattheus. “Location wasn’t that good. He was up. Didn’t have much of a split. But I liked it, because I think Bo (Porter, Astros manager) had nine left-handers in there. It was good for Storen, facing left-handers, same with Mattheus.”

Anthony Rendon has had a stellar camp thus far, but the 22-year-old infielder made a baserunning blunder in the fifth when he tried to move from second to third on Moore’s ground ball to third baseman Matt Dominguez.

Dominguez came in on the ball, fired to first to get Moore and then scooted back to the bag to grab Laird’s return throw. He slapped the tag on Rendon for the third out of the inning.

“That was a total screw-up,” Johnson said. “He should know - when the third baseman comes in on a slow-hit ball, you don’t have to wait til he throws it.”

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