|Derek Norris is congratulated by Brian Bixler for his game-winning pinch-hit. (C.Nichols/Nats News Network)|
Derek Norris hit a blast to the left-center field warning track with the bases loaded and two out in the bottom of the ninth inning, leading the Washington Nationals to a 6-5 win over a bunch of guys wearing New York Yankees jerseys before a capacity crowd at Space Coast Stadium on a spectacularly sunny Saturday afternoon, running the Nats spring training record to 9-5.
It was a big moment for the young catcher, bound for the minor leagues this season, as manager Jim Riggleman had the prospect pinch-hit in that situation for Roger Bernadina, slated to get plenty of at bats in the major leagues this year.
Bernadina's prime competition for playing time, Michael Morse, had another terrific day, going two-for-three with an opposite field homer and run-scoring single. The big outfielder is hitting .500 this spring with a team-leading five home runs.
Yunesky Maya got the win, going four innings and allowing one unearned run on two hits and three walks, striking out three. The run scored when Bernadina dropped a fly ball in center in a stiff breeze, the runner got three bases on the play, originally scored a triple but later changed to an error.
|Maya gets the win against the Yankees. (C.Nichols/Nats News Network)|
John Lannan started and had a rough go of it. He went four and two-thirds innings and gave up four runs on four hits and three walks, striking out three.
The Yankees only brought a handful of Major Leaguers for the game, including CF Brett Gardner, C Russell Martin and 2B Robinson Cano. A.J. Burnett started for the pinstripes and went four innings, allowing two earned runs on Morse's home run.
The other big news out of Nats camp was the re-assignment of OF Bryce Harper to Class-A Hagerstown. The 18-year old phenom more than held his own with the big league club in 13 spring training games. He went 7-for-18 (.389/.450/.556) with three doubles and five RBIs and played in 13 of the Nats 14 Grapefruit League games.
Harper survived the first two round of cuts, leading to speculation by the fan base that perhaps his good results would change GM Mike Rizzo's plan of starting last year's No. 1 overall pick in the low minors. Harper did perform well in his initial tryout, but he needs to get four at bats a day and play the outfield on a regular basis to cultivate the immense and obvious talent he possesses.
There's also the "old school" in Rizzo that wants Harper to ride the buses and carry his own bags and pay for his late-night dinners out of per diem like just about every other ballplayer in the history of the game.
Harper took the news with his typical blend of confidence and bravado, but the kid came out in him too.
“I’ve never not made a team,” he [Harper] said.
"I understood that I wasn’t going to make the team. I understood that completely from the first day. But I got to tell myself, ‘You’re here. You got to act like you’re that star player on the team. You got to come out here every day, and you got to play like you’re the guy.’"
“Hopefully,” he said, “I’ll see you guys in July.”
Harper will make his MLB debut for the Nationals soon enough. For now, Rizzo is content in allowing the teenager to simply learn how to be a ballplayer. Saving the franchise will have to wait.
NATS NOTES: The Nationals optioned reliever Atahualpa Severino to Class AAA Syracuse and reassigned reliever Ryan Mattheus and Tim Wood to minor league camp after the game.
|Bryce Harper grimaces after taking a fastball in the upper arm in the ninth inning. (C.Nichols/Nats News Network)|