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Nationals' Harper has good day at plate, in field

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Sunday, March 6, 2011

Harper has good day at plate and in field

Bryce Harper, the Nationals' heralded right field prospect, had perhaps his best game of the spring Saturday in Washington's 10-8 win over the New York Yankees in Tampa.

Harper went 1 for 2 and collected his first RBI of the spring - stroking a hard single to right off right-hander Daniel Turpen, then aggressively taking second base when the ball was bobbled in the outfield. He also started a perfectly executed 9-6-5 relay to nail Austin Romine trying to stretch a double into a triple.

"It takes a while," Harper said of his growing comfort at the plate. "They say it takes 30 or 40 at-bats to get ready. If can get 30 at-bats [this spring], I'd be great. I feel really good up there right now."

Perhaps just as impressively, Harper held his own against a small contingent of New York media members - including Keith Olbermann - who visited his locker after the game to see whether Harper's childhood love of the Yankees translated into some starstruck moments in his first game against them. But Harper shot that notion down quickly, saying he was all business and had no interest in meeting anyone in the pinstripes.

"I never say hi to anybody [on the other team]. I just stay over here," Harper said. ". . . I'm trying to beat them. That's what I am. If we're off the field, I'll go over and say hello. You can be my best friend, and I'll hate you on the baseball field. That's how I am."

Though Manager Jim Riggleman praised Harper's awareness of the strike zone, Harper politely disagreed: "I think my strike zone is pretty bad right now, actually. . . . I feel like I need to learn the major league strike zone a little better than I do right now."

Riggleman backs Morgan

Earlier Saturday, Riggleman brought up Nyjer Morgan's 0-for-3, two-strikeout performance in a 6-4 loss to the Braves Friday, saying Morgan "was pitched extremely tough yesterday."

When Riggleman was pressed further, he said: "I hate when anybody's not getting hits because it can get in your head, but he's working really hard and he's totally receptive to every message I give, or [third base and base running coach] Bo Porter gives him about base running or [hitting coach] Rick Eckstein.

"Rick commented yesterday that it was the best batting practice session [Morgan] has had all spring. You try to stay positive, and you just figure he's a career, whatever he is, .285 hitter in the big leagues? [Actually, .283.] That's pretty good. So you can't get too concerned about a few at-bats in spring training."

Relievers getting ready

Riggleman said Elvin Ramirez and Henry Rodriguez, the right-handed pitchers who were late arrivals to camp because of visa issues, are at different places in their relative readiness.

"With Ramirez, our understanding was that he'd been throwing regularly [while awaiting his visa], but when he got here, it didn't appear he had been throwing as much as the other guys. So we're really taking it slow with him. We've pushed some bullpens back. But he's a Rule 5 [draftee], and we need to get a good look at him, so I'm hoping that pretty soon we get him in some games, because we have to make a tough call on him."

Rodriguez, meanwhile, is "throwing free and easy," Riggleman said. "It's not game-stuff yet, but he's firing."

- Dave Sheinin


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