VIERA, Fla. (AP) - Coming off a disastrous season, A.J. Burnett is well on his way to a solid spring training.
Burnett pitched four effective innings in the New York Yankees' 6-5 loss to the Washington Nationals on Saturday.
``It's another positive step right there,' he said. ``I was able to find my second pitch, my curveball, today. I threw it pretty much where I wanted to.'
Washington announced after the game it was sending top prospect Bryce Harper to Class A Hagerstown, saying the top overall pick in last year's draft needs more playing time.
``He needs to go down to the minor leagues and get four or five at_bats per game to prepare himself for the season,' general manager Mike Rizzo said. ``And that was the reason we got him out. He was getting one or two at_bats a game here, playing in spurts, and he needs to get prepared for the season and get plenty of at_bats and plenty of reps in the outfield.'
The 18-year-old Harper, who hit .389 in 13 spring games, was disappointed but determined to make it back to the big leagues as soon as possible.
``Nobody likes to leave the big league club,' he said. ``This is the life that you want to live every day, and it's just the process.
``I'm going to go down there and play hard like I always do and, you know, hopefully get back up here real soon.'
Burnett retired the Nationals in order three times, but also allowed Mike Morse's two-run homer in the second. The right-hander, who went 10-15 with a 5.26 ERA last year, struck out four and walked none.
Morse's second homer in two days accounted for the first runs off Burnett this spring.
``I gave up the single and the homer, which was a decent pitch,' Burnett said. ``(Morse) is big man, you know he's got power, then 1-2-3 after that, and getting back into it.'
All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano singled in a run and scored for New York. Prospect Jorge Vazquez had three hits, including a homer, and drove in three.
Nationals starter John Lannan pitched 4 1-3 innings and was charged with four runs and four hits. He struck out three and walked three.
``It's something to build off of,' Lannan said. ``I still got a little more than two weeks, which means I have a couple more starts to get to where I want to be.'
Morse had two hits to raise his average to .500 in 28 at_bats this spring. He is the leading candidate to be Washington's opening day left fielder.
``Mike's winning the job,' manager Jim Riggleman said. ``We want people to take over those positions. Mike is making the statement that 'I'm the guy.' We welcome that. He's just played so well.'
Rick Ankiel, also competing for the job in left, and Laynce Nix each hit a solo homer for Washington. Derek Norris singled in the winning run in the ninth.
NOTES: Yankees minor leaguer Kei Igawa was scheduled to leave for Japan late Saturday to see his family. He is from the town of Oarai in the Ibaraki Prefecture, which was hit hard by the 8.9 magnitude earthquake. He spoke to his family early on Saturday and everyone was OK. ... Yankees closer Mariano Rivera is scheduled to make his first spring training appearance on Sunday. He has taken a slower approach to prepare for the regular season in recent years. ... New York 3B Alex Rodriguez attended Friday night's Tampa Bay Lightning home game against Ottawa with his girlfriend Cameron Diaz. A-Rod and the rest of the starting infield - except for 2B Robinson Cano - were among those who didn't make the road trip and worked out at George Steinbrenner Field. ... The Yankees played in Space Coast Stadium for the first time since 1994, when the stadium was the spring training home of the Florida Marlins.
The Associated Press News Service
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