Nationals Journal

Harper will likely play, but not start, in spring training opener

Friday, February 25, 2011

Harper could play in spring opener

Bryce Harper will travel with the Nationals to their first game of spring training, meaning the first overall pick's first action against a major league opponent could come Monday in Port St. Lucie, Fla., against the New York Mets. Harper will not start, but "I'll try to get him an at-bat in that game," Manager Jim Riggleman said Thursday.

Harper, 18, has high-level professional experience from the 2010 Arizona Fall League, but playing in an exhibition game against major leaguers will be a new step in his development. At 18, Harper will be the youngest player any time he steps on a major league spring training field. Harper will likely remain with the Nationals for roughly seven to 10 days once games begin before joining the team's minor league camp.

"While he's with us, I would just like him to get his work, get his game situations that we put him in," Riggleman said. "I'm hoping that he kind of blends in. I'm not looking for him to excel against major league pitching. But the more that he kind of goes up there and looks like the rest of them, if he didn't have Harper on his back, if he blended in and put the barrel on the ball a few times, I think we'd say, 'That's a pretty good ballplayer there.' "

The Nationals will leave Adam LaRoche, Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth behind for their first trip. Nyjer Morgan, Michael Morse, Jerry Hairston, Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa and Roger Bernadina will make the trip.

Chad Gaudin will start the game, and Craig Stammen, Brian Broderick, Todd Coffey and Doug Slaten will all pitch at least one inning, Riggleman said.

Ramirez arrives, throws

After flying into the United States on Wednesday, reliever Elvin Ramirez passed his physical Thursday morning in Viera and practiced with the Nationals. He threw a bullpen session monitored by pitching coach Steve McCatty, pitching coordinator Spin Williams, General Manager Mike Rizzo and Riggleman.

Ramirez showed off his fluid, easy delivery, a laconic motion that belies the 100-mph power in his right arm. He didn't seem to throw with all of his velocity, but his fastball moved with a late, downward bite. He threw several big, sharp-breaking curveballs, an indication he's been on a throwing program in the Dominican Republic while waiting for his visa delay to end.

So long as all goes to plan, Ramirez will throw one or two more bullpen sessions before throwing either live batting practice or in a spring training game, Riggleman said.

The Nationals chose Ramirez off the Mets' roster in December's Rule 5 draft, which means they will either have to carry him on their major league roster all season, work out a trade or ship him back to the Mets. His powerful arm packs tantalizing potential, but he's had only 6 2/3 innings of experience beyond Class A and he walked 5.5 batters per nine innings in the minors last season. Still, given the dynamics at play, Ramirez could stick on the Nationals' 25-man roster.

- Adam Kilgore

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