VIERA, Fla. (AP) - Bryce Harper appears to be perfectly suited for the No. 3 spot in the Nationals lineup.
The 20-year-old left fielder hit a three-run homer in the first inning and added an RBI single for a Washington split squad in an 8-5 victory over the New York Mets.
``I like having two guys in front of me that get on base and see a lot of pitches,' Harper said. ``They're just going to make me better.'
Harper, who batted second for Washington last season, is now hitting behind new leadoff hitter Denard Span and Jayson Werth. Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman is in the cleanup spot.
Nationals manager Davey Johnson thinks Harper has shown more patience at the plate this season because he learned from last season, when he got off to a quick start before pitchers started attacking him in different ways.
``What he went through last year was very important for him, to be able to struggle and make adjustments,' Johnson said. ``That's what you do up here. You make adjustments. Pitchers are always trying new tricks to get your timing off. . He's shown from day one in the spring that he's a lot more patient.'
Harper, who said his feet were a little sore after playing all nine innings Wednesday, still has plenty to work on this spring. In particular, he is getting used to playing with Span, to see what kind range the center fielder has, and to also get used to the spin of the ball coming off a left-hander's bat.
He's still working on things at the plate, too, though he looks pretty comfortable there.
``I can't hit a changeup right now,' said Harper, who has three homers. ``I'm just trying to stay as patient as I can, trying to get a pitch up in the zone and try to really square things up.'
And it was a high fastball from New York starter Matt Harvey in the first inning that Harper jumped on and sent over the left-center field fence.
``We wanted it in, but it just faded over (the middle) a little bit,' Mets catcher Travis d'Arnaud said. ``(Harper) put a good swing on it.'
Harvey was pleased with his outing, save for the first inning. He went four innings and gave up three hits, two earned runs and struck out six.
He walked Span to lead off the game, saw Werth reach on an error and then gave up the home run to Harper before settling into a nice groove.
``I struggled there in the first inning, obviously,' Harvey said. ``I think I came out a little too excited. I needed to tone that down a little bit. ... I made one bad pitch and it cost me three runs.
``I was happy about it. Obviously, not the first inning, but I definitely bounced back.'
Center fielder Collin Cowgill hit a solo home run in the seventh inning for the Mets. First baseman Ike Davis and right fielder Marlon Byrd each had two hits.
Reliever Bobby Parnell, who will serve as the Mets closer early in the season until Frank Francisco is ready to return from elbow inflammation, gave up four runs in the seventh inning.
That included a two-out single by Harper that was misplayed by New York's Lucas Duda, allowing another run to score and for Harper to take second. Harper scored on a single by Zimmerman.
Though the regular season doesn't start until April 1, the Nationals are starting to look like a team already rounding into shape. That included the announcement Wednesday that right-hander Stephen Strasburg will make his second opening day start.
Strasburg, who was limited to 159 1-3 innings last season after coming off Tommy John surgery, will not have an innings limit this time.
``I don't think anybody's shocked about him being the opening day guy,' Harper said. ``He's pretty unbelievable. It's going to be good to have him all year long.
``I'm excited. I think everybody in the baseball world, not just us, is really excited to see him all year. Hopefully, we can get into the playoffs again this year and let him throw down there and see what we can do.'
NOTES: Nationals starter Jordan Zimmermann, who gave up eight runs in his last outing, went 4 2-3 on Wednesday, allowing one run and striking out six. Zimmermann said his arm felt much better than it did on March 8, when Johnson said the right-hander was going through a ``dead arm' phase. Zimmermann threw 82 pitches . Johnson, who was impressed with the way Gio Gonzalez threw Tuesday night in Team USA's win against Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic, has been told the left-hander will likely start the championship game should the USA advance that far. . RHP Nathan Karns, who had been bothered by tightness in his left leg, has been cleared to throw a bullpen on Thursday. . The Nationals have 26 position players in camp. Johnson would like to get that number down to 20 after the next round of cuts, which should be coming soon. . The target date for Zimmerman to play third base is still March 18. Zimmerman has been serving as the Nationals designated hitter following shoulder surgery. . Wednesday was hardly the first time Harvey and Harper will lock up this season, or for seasons to come in the NL East. Harvey said he enjoyed the challenge. ``He's an All-Star. He's . Bryce Harper,' Harvey said. ``I made a bad pitch to him. I learned from it. It's something I'll remember going into the season for future at_bats.' . Harvey also got his first at-bat of the spring, striking out swinging. ``It looked a little quick,' Harvey said. ``From BP tossing to 90-plus, it jumps on you a little bit.' . LHP Johan Santana turned 34 on Wednesday. . RHP Dillon Gee will throw for the Mets on Thursday at home against Detroit.
The Associated Press News Service
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