(Julio Cortez/AP)

LaRoche had hoped to play in today’s game against the Cardinals, but he settled for the chance to hit off minor league pitchers, his first at-bats in a game setting since last May. LaRoche hit four groundouts and walked twice against hard-throwing minor league pitchers Paul Demny, Rob Gilliam and Kylin Turnbull.

“That was the thing I wanted to see, is live pitching,” LaRoche said. “That’s what it takes for me. It’ll eventually click. If I can do that, I’m fine. . . . I was excited to get out there and see some live pitching. Seeing behind the screen and with the cage around you is just totally different.”

LaRoche did not make any turns on the base paths, the one action that still gives his ankle a problem. His shoulder responded to the live pitching well, as he assumed it would. LaRoche missed the final 120 games of last season after undergoing surgery on the labrum in his left shoulder.

“It’s getting now where I don’t even think about it,” LaRoche said. “Even throwing, for the most part, unless I’m stretching it out, I don’t even think about it, which is great.”

After LaRoche’s at-bat, he took groundballs as athletic trainer Lee Kuntz looked on. He also took more batting practice, against a machine set to throw curveballs.

Manager Davey Johnson said he expects LaRoche to play in his first game Saturday, when the Nationals have split squad games against the Tigers (with Justin Verlander pitching) in Lakeland and the Mets at home in Viera.

“We’re just going to stay cautions with him,” Johnson said. “He’s been on the [injury] list as ‘able.’ I’m a little more conservative than the trainer.”

Otherwise, the Nationals have only a couple nagging injuries. Michael Morse still had no worry his strained right lat would become serious; he planned to take batting practice today. Manager Davey Johnson mentioned that Jayson Werth felt some tightness in his forearm, but he’s fine and in tomorrow’s lineup.

The Cardinals are in town today, and they’ll send to the mound Shelby Miller, one of the top pitching prospects in baseball. Otherwise, they brought a skeleton crew from Jupiter; the best position player they brought is John Jay.

Here’s the Nationals’ lineup for today:

1. Ian Desmond, SS

2. Steve Lombardozzi, 2B

3. Rick Ankiel, CF

4. Chad Tracy, 1B

5. Jason Michaels, DH

6. Mark Teahen, 3B

7. Roger Bernadina, LF

8. Jesus Flores, C

9. Corey Brown, RF

-Jordan Zimmermann, SP

Matt Purke will back up Zimmermann, his first appearance against a major league team, or at least players wearing major league uniforms. Ryan Mattheus, Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen and Brad Lidge will also pitch.

And here is the lineup for tomorrow’s game against the Astros:

1. Steve Lombardozzi, SS

2. Danny Espinosa, 2B

3. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B

4. Mark DeRosa, 1B

5. Jayson Werth, DH

6. Wilson Ramos, C

7. Bryce Harper, RF

8. Brett Carroll, CF

9. Roger Bernadina, LF

- Edwin Jackson, SP