VIERA, Fla. – If Bryce Harper is going to make the Washington Nationals out of spring training, it's not going to be because he's an excellent bunter.
Still, the 19-year-old outfielder decided to lay one down and was thrown out in the third inning of Washington's 3-0 exhibition win over Georgetown on Friday.
"I was just trying to make something happen, I guess," Harper said.
The power-hitting rookie went 0 for 2 with a walk. He also made several nice plays in right field, tracking down a fly ball from Kevin Johnson and holding Danny Poplawski to a single by cutting off the ball, spinning and hitting the cutoff man.
Harper said he worked hard in the offseason to improve his defense, particularly keeping the ball low on his throws.
Nationals manager Davey Johnson said he has seen improvement in Harper's defense. As for the bunt attempt, Johnson didn't say anything to Harper when he came back to the dugout.
"He was just trying to get something going," Johnson said. "It was real close to being a base hit. You talk to Bryce, he'll probably say, 'Well, we're playing a college team.' That's the way he looks at it. Trying to work on his bunting and baserunning."
Harper, who is trying to be more selective at the plate this spring, walked on four pitches in his first at-bat, even though Johnson said he had a green light on the 3-0 pitch. In his final at-bat, he flied out to right field on a ball his manager said might have been a home run if the wind hadn't been blowing in so hard.
Washington will open Grapefruit League play Saturday in Kissimmee against the Houston Astros, who plan to start former Nationals pitcher Livan Hernandez. Harper is slated to start in right field and bat seventh.
"I'll just try to get something up, hopefully out and over the plate that I can drive into the left-center field gap," Harper said. "I don't want to try to do too much, and get too big and try to hit a ball to right field because he's got that offspeed stuff and really knows how to pitch. I'll just try to drive something to the left side and work with that."
NOTES: Johnson all but ruled out 1B Adam LaRoche and OF Jayson Werth from playing this weekend. LaRoche has been bothered by a slightly sprained ankle and sore left shoulder. Werth has been dealing with muscle spasms in his back. ... The Nationals agreed to 2012 contracts with 15 players Friday, including starting infielders Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa and starting catcher Wilson Ramos. Others included pitchers Ross Detwiler, Atahualpa Severino, Cole Kimball, Ryan Mattheus, Ryan Perry, Henry Rodriguez and Craig Stammen; catcher Jhonatan Solano; infielders Steve Lombardozzi, Chris Marrero and Tyler Moore and outfielder Eury Perez. Washington also renewed the contracts of closer Drew Storen and outfielder Roger Bernadina. ... The Nationals' batting order for Saturday's game against Houston will include Desmond leading off with second baseman Danny Espinosa batting second, followed by Rick Ankiel (CF), Chad Tracy (1B), Jason Michaels (DH), Mark Teahen (3B), Harper (RF), Bernadina (LF), Jesus Flores (C) and starting pitcher Edwin Jackson. ... Johnson was so excited about the start of the spring season, he overdid it a little Friday morning and tweaked his right hamstring. "I'm not quite ready to start the season. I'm on the DL a little bit right now," he said.