Nats fall in exhibition opener

Washington Nationals prospect Bryce Harper reaches out for a ball during spring training baseball, Thursday, March 1, 2012, in Viera, Fla. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Craig Heist,

KISSIMMEE, Fla. – Chris Johnson hit a two-run homer off Ross Detwiler in the bottom of the fourth and Livan Hernandez threw two scoreless innings as the Astros beat the Nationals 3-1 at Osceola County Stadium in the Spring Training opener for both teams.

Edwin Jackson got the start for the Nationals and faced seven batters, allowed one hit and walked two, but also got two double play grounds balls. He threw 28 pitches, 12 for strikes.

“It’s always good to keep the ball on the ground,” Jackson said. “Of course, you don’t want to walk people to get out of jams with inning ending double plays but, when you make pitches when you need to make pitches and get groundballs, that’s always productive.”

Detwiler pitched two innings and gave up an infield hit with two outs in the third with no damage. With one out in the fourth, he walked Jack Cust after being ahead 0-2 in the count. Johnson then hit a 1-0 change-up over the center field wall for a two-run homer. The walk didn’t bother Detwiler as much as the homer.

“It’s the second time I’ve seen hitters, and that stuff will come,” Detwiler said. “If there is anything I would go back on it’s the 1-0 change-up down the middle. I know its Spring Training, but I still want to go out there and compete.”

After Jackson and Detwiler, Chad Durbin, Atahualpa Severino and Sean Burnett combined to go the final four innings with Severino giving up a hit and a run in an inning of work.

Flores comes out swinging

Catcher Jesus Flores had two doubles and an RBI in two plate appearances. His double in the fifth inning scored Roger Bernadina, who doubled before him.

Flores played winter ball in Venezuela and says he is ready to prove he is healthy once again and ready to contribute.

“It helped me gain all my confidence back,” Flores said. “That’s what I am showing now. Just play baseball and have fun.”

Flores finds himself behind starter Wilson Ramos and for the time being, that is fine with Flores.

“If that’s what it is, I’m ready for it,” he said. “I just want to do my job and show I can be a regular catcher. If this is the case, I just want to help the team win and do the best with Wilson and I know for sure, he wants to do the same thing.”

Harper update

Bryce Harper went 1-for-3 in the game. His hit came against ex-National Livan Hernandez, a ground single to right field in the first inning on a 2-1 pitch after Livo had started him off with that Bugs Bunny curve ball.

“I was hoping he threw me a curve ball first pitch,” Harper said. “It was down and I swung right through it but I made a commitment to it and did it.”

Part of this spring training for the 19-year-old will be trying to see as many pitches as he can and try and work the count while he is at the plate.

“I want to be in those battle counts,” he said. “I want to be in those situations and not do too much and drive the ball to the left side and just hit off speed pitches and react to that fastball. If I can see a lot of off-speed and get used to that, I think that will be huge for me.”

Johnson wants a good look at everyone

Before the game, manager Davey Johnson was reacting to questions about Bryce Harper and his chances of making or not making the ballclub.

Johnson wants more of a left-handed presence in his lineup, and he wants to take a look at options in the spring. When it comes to Harper, it’s becoming obvious the skipper is getting tired of the questions.

“Is he on my mind every minute? No,” he said. “I’ve known him and seen him swing the bat for four years. I have not seen up close (Brett) Carroll, (Chad) Tracy, (Mark) Teahen, (Xavier) Paul and those are the guys I’m going to be looking at.”

Johnson feels there is a chance for this club to win this year, so making sure he has the best 25 players to go north to Washington with at the end of the month will be first and foremost on his mind as the spring progresses.

“We’re not in a development mode. We’re not in a building mode,” he said. “Each day what goes on here is very important to the organization. My focus in these games — and I love spring training and I love watching guys compete — but every day is a story and every day tells me something and I learn more about the talent.”

For Johnson, Harper is “just one of the boys.” “Coming in here, they’re all kind of on equal footing and it’s a level playing field.”

Return match

The Nationals play the Astros again Sunday at Space Coast Stadium in Viera. Stephen Strasburg will take the mound for the Nats and he will be opposed by LPH J.A. Happ at 1 p.m.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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