Roger Bernadina's strong start, Bryce Harper's near miss, Nationals pitchers stay under control
Wednesday, March 2, 2011; 7:43 PM
The Nationals moved to 3-0 today with an 8-4 win over the Marlins. Three things other than Yunesky Maya (who I wrote about for tomorrow's paper) that stood out: >>> The two Nationals players off to the best start are the ones vying for the left field spot. Michael Morse had the day off, and so Roger Bernadina took his place as the Nationals' hitting star. Bernadina led off and played center field, going 2 for 4 with a three-run home run and a bunt single. Through three games, Bernadina is 4 for 6, two of those hits bunt singles, with a walk and the homer, which was a bomb to right off Josh Johnson. The wind was whipping out that way, but Bernadina's blast needed no help. "In Nationals Park," Manager Jim Riggleman said, "that ball is a home run." The next time up to bat, with one out and nobody on, Bernadina showed off the other part of his game. Left-hander Mike Dunn was on the mound, and Bernadina rolled a clinical bunt into the no-man's land between the mound, first base and the second baseman. "That's something I want to work on," Bernadina said. "Whatever I can do to help the team get on-base somehow." Bernadina posted a paltry .307 on-base percentage last year, so any bit helps. Riggleman explained the particular importance of Bernadina bunting against lefties: First, Bernadina hits right-handers better, so a bunt can be a different weapon against a lefty. Second, when a left-hander finishes his delivery, he typically falls off to the third-base side of the field. That leaves a hole if Bernadina executes a drag bunt. "Against a left-handed pitcher, there's a lot of hits in that gap there," Riggleman said. "With his speed, it's impossible for the first baseman or the second baseman to do something with it." Riggleman also said that the winner of the left-field competition will likely hit sixth. >>> In the eighth inning, Bryce Harper almost hit his first home run. Tom Koeler fed him a high fastball, and Harper blasted it to left-center. The crowd buzzed for a second, but Josh Kroeger tracked it down and made a nice running catch on the warning track. Harper had to settle for an F8, but it was easily the hardest hit ball he's had yet. "That was impressive," Rigglemam said. "And I promise you, he didn't get that ball as good as he can get it, not by any means. He barreled it up decent. But I think he'd tell you, 'I just missed it.' But he got enough that it's a home run on most days." In his first at-bat, Harper walked, a good sign given his free-swinging ways during his first couple games. Harper promptly went first to third on a single, a solid, aggressive piece of base running. "He just got a good read on it," Riggleman said. "He attacked second base full speed. He didn't need the coach. His instincts told him, 'I can get to third on this ball.' " >>> This deserves another mention: the Nationals are not walking anybody. Steve McCatty told pitchers in a meeting early this spring that they needed to challenge batters to put the ball in play, and they have done so. John Lannan, who allowed one run after retiring the first six batters he faced, issued the Nationals' only walk today. Through three games, the Nationals have only walked three hitters. And they have struck out 25, good for an 8.3 strikeout-to-walk rate. That is awesome. Real quickly: Atahualpa Severino and Sean Burnett both turned in 1-2-3 innings, each with one strikeout. And Rick Ankiel notched his first hit of the spring, a solo home run.