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Nationals veterans get a look at Lucas Giolito and other notes from Saturday’s workout

Catcher Jose Lobaton, left, talks to pitcher Lucas Giolito after a pitching session. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

VIERA, Fla. — Don’t read into Saturday’s late-February batting practice session in which Lucas Giolito faced Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth and other Nationals regulars. Seeing the top right-handed pitching prospect in baseball face bona fide major leaguers is interesting, but not necessarily meaningful.

“It’s just a live bullpen, so I’m trying to just work on pitches and be around the strike zone. I don’t really mind who steps in, or if they hit it hard or don’t hit it hard,” said Giolito, the 21-year-old with the high-90s fastball. “In a game, it’s different. But this is just practice.”

Gio Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg and others threw live batting practice Saturday, but none faced a lineup like Giolito’s. He took the mound as a group consisting of Ryan Zimmerman, Clint Robinson and Bryce Harper left the cage, but Harper stayed to see a few more pitches.

“He could be his teammate for a long time,” Dusty Baker said. “He just wanted to see what he had.”

Zimmerman watched from outside the cage, while fans crowded to the fence to see the prodigy at work.

“At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter how many people watch you,” said Zimmerman, once a high-profile prospect himself. “It’s hard to think that when you’re his age. At some times you think it’s not really fair to him — especially nowadays, there’s just so much more than when I was coming up. It makes them grow up really quick and have to worry about things they shouldn’t have to worry about.”

But noses don’t press against fences for nothing, and Giolito showed the high-powered fastball and tight curve that earned him such scrutiny in the first place. Tyler Moore  called Giolito “impressive” and said he saw “big league stuff” that can be effective with ever-improving command.

“I wasn’t very pleased with how I pitched today,” Giolito said. “I want to be more around the strike zone. That comes with time. Second (bullpen). Nothing to worry about.” 

Except for hitters, because both Moore and Werth called facing Giolito “uncomfortable.” Werth said what stuck out to him, besides the expected plus-velocity, was Giolito’s arm-slot. The veteran couldn’t quite describe what created such a challenge, but that angle — a little across the body, a little over-the-top — made things tough. Werth managed to fight off an inside pitch up the right field line on one of his few swings. Few others did much more against Giolito, though hitters don’t swing much in these sessions this early in spring training.

“He kind of … puts you on your heels,” Werth said. “As a hitter, you want to put your nose out over the plate. A guy like that, you’re not gonna feel too comfortable doing it.”

Baker called Giolito “cool for his age,” not trying to impress too much, not the kind of rookie who tries to stick out — though at 6-foot-6, he can’t really help it.

“I’ll tell you, he’s a character, number one. The guy has a quick arm, very quick arm. He has a very good pitching body. Good demeanor. And a very bright young man,” Baker said. “Washington is going to really love him when he gets there.”

>>>>> Moore took ground balls at third base and Stephen Drew worked with the corner infielders during Saturday’s defensive sessions. Moore, normally a first baseman and recently an outfielder, said he was told to take grounders at third base. He did that a few times last season, in case of emergencies, which very nearly materialized.

Drew seems likely to be the backup middle infielder, but also took grounders at the corners Saturday. Brendan Ryan, Scott Sizemore and Jason Martinson are non-roster invitees who have been working at second and shortstop, along with prospects Trea Turner, Wilmer Difo and Chris Bostick.

>>>>> The Nationals will play an intrasquad game Sunday at Space Coast Stadium, which will be open to the public. Gates open at 10 a.m. and the game begins at 11 a.m. Dusty Baker said Sunday’s will be one of two intrasquad games, one more than his teams usually play. With Cincinnati, Baker could rely on games against the Indians, with whom the Reds shared a facility. In Viera, an hour or so from the nearest competition, the Nationals must play against themselves. Baker said players will come over from minor league camp to mix with big-leaguers and roster hopefuls.

“I’m curious to see some of them play, too. And the hardest parts of starting the first game or two are the enormous fields. You’ve been on the field with 60 guys, so there’s very little space out there,” Baker said. “Then all of a sudden, you’re in a big old stadium and the next guy is a mile away on one side and a mile away on the other side. Just sort of get used to seeing how vast the stadiums are.”

Max Scherzer and Joe Ross will start the game, with Tanner Roark, Austin Voth and others scheduled to pitch. Baker said Werth and Zimmerman will not play.

“Those are the big boys,” Baker said. “We’ve got to bring them along slowly, and then crest hopefully right before we leave and we start the season.”