KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper started in right field for the Nationals on Saturday against the Astros and went 1-for 3 in a 3-1 loss, his hit coming in the first inning against right-hander Livan Hernandez.

Hernandez fooled Harper on the first pitch with a curveball, which Harper swung at and missed. But Harper worked the count to 2-1 and singled to right field.

"I was actually hoping he would throw me a curveball first pitch. It was just down. I swung right through it and made a commitment to it."

Nationals manager Davey Johnson said he was going to give Harper every chance to make the team out of Spring Training. If that's the case, Harper will be the everyday right fielder.

Flores confident, healthy following winter ball

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Manager Davey Johnson said catcher Ivan Rodriguez understood why the Nationals didn't bring him back for a third season. The team wanted to stick with Jesus Flores to see if he could get his confidence back.

So far, Flores has looked like the productive player he was before he hurt his shoulder in May of 2009. On Saturday, Flores went 2-for 2 with an RBI against the Astros in a 3-1 loss. It helped that he played well for Navegantes del Magallanes of the Venezuelan Winter League, hitting .330 with eight home runs and 39 RBIs.

"The winter helped him a great deal because he is throwing a lot better. He is confident, more sure of himself. He looks like he is midseason form to me," Johnson said.

Flores said he no longer worries about his injured shoulder or staying in the big leagues. He is more focused on improving his game.

"It's like, 'Play baseball, relax and have fun,'" Flores said. "Before, I was worried too much about, 'Don't go back to Triple-A, I want to stay in the bigs.' Then the shoulder ... I don't want to get hurt again, all that kind of stuff."

Flores most likely will begin the season as Washington's backup behind Wilson Ramos. Flores realizes that he is an everyday player, but understands what his role will be this year.

"If that's what it is, I'm prepared for it, I'm ready for it," Flores said. "I just want to do my job, show that I can be a regular catcher. If [I am a bench player], I'll do my best with Wilson, and I know for sure he wants to do the same thing."

Jackson rushes through outing with little damage

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Right-hander Edwin Jackson made his Nationals debut on Saturday, pitching two shutout innings in a 3-1 loss to the Astros.

Jackson struggled in the first inning, allowing a leadoff walk to J.B. Shuck and a single to Jose Altuve. However, Travis Buck hit into a double play and Jack Cust grounded out to second baseman Danny Espinosa to end the inning. Jackson's only blemish in the second inning was a one-out walk to Jed Lowrie.

Pitching coach Steve McCatty said Jackson was rushing a little bit on the mound. McCatty also wasn't concerned about Jackson's mechanics, which have been a big concern since the team acquired his services last month. When Jackson pitched from the windup last year, opponents hit over .330 against him. The two walks in Saturday's game came while Jackson was pitching in the windup.

"Right now, we are not going to make a mechanical issue about anything, tipping [pitches] nothing," McCatty said. "I want him to be athletic. I want him to feel nice and smooth. I want him to feel everything is working together, not worry about all this other garbage that goes on with it. Obviously, the first time trying to get out there, we had a good bullpen session. We talked about working on some stuff and just taking that mental approach, 'I'm going to be athletic and make pitches.'"

Carroll, Ankiel give Nats intriguing options

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Nationals manager Davey Johnson said Saturday that he is intrigued by outfielders Brett Carroll and Rick Ankiel. Both players signed Minor League deals with the club this past offseason and can play all three outfield positions.

Johnson said he is impressed by Carroll's arm in the outfield and the swing at the plate, and Ankiel looks more relaxed at the plate.

"I'm impressed with Carroll, who has opened my eyes.," Johnson said. "Ankiel has looked very good this spring with his adjustments. To me, they are more interesting to me than Bryce Harper bunting against a college team. I didn't give him the bunt sign, but I didn't care what he did."

Johnson is looking to build a more productive bench, especially from the left side of the plate. In 2011, the Nationals' pinch-hitters went a combined 38-for-204 (.186) with two home runs and 14 RBIs. Johnson was not happy that last year's bench was built on speed and defense.

"Last year, we had Laynce Nix, Matt Stairs, but I think they hit about .050 between them [off the bench]," Johnson said. "The right-handed side wasn't much better."

Werth to start in center on Sunday

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Entering Spring Training, Jayson Werth was the leading candidate to play center field. Manager Davey Jonson has decided that Werth will start in center field on Sunday against the Astros.

Werth played 19 games at the position last year and didn't commit an error. It is assumed that If Werth starts the season in center, it would likely mean that Bryce Harper has a good chance to make the 25-man roster.

"I think if you ask [Werth], he would say he could do whatever -- a full season there or in right," Johnson said. "Just from last year, he feels he has to feel 100 percent to get the jumps and get the balls [in center]. It's a little demanding than in right. He would probably need a little more rest if he was in center. He has not moved to center yet."

Here is the Nationals' lineup for Sunday against the Astros:
Ian Desmond, SS
Danny Espinosa, 2B
Ryan Zimmerman, 3B
Michael Morse, DH
Jayson Werth, CF
Mark DeRosa, 1B
Wilson Ramos, C
Jason Michaels, LF
Brett Carroll, RF
Right-hander Stephen Strasburg will start the game, followed by Tom Gorzelanny, Ryan Mattheus, Brad Lidge, Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen.