3/13/2013 7:24 P.M. ET
In Nationals' third spot, Harper thriving
By Bill Ladson and Paul Hagen / MLB.com
VIERA, Fla. -- Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper is showing that hitting third in lineup agrees with him. This spring, Harper is 16-for-36 (.444) with three home runs and eight RBIs.
Harper said the players hitting in front of him are the reason he is having success. On Wednesday, for example, Denard Span and Jayson Werth were on base when Harper hit a three-run homer against Mets right-hander Matt Harvey. Harper ended up driving in four runs against the Mets.
"Having the two guys in front of me, … they are going to make me better." Harper said. "Denard is unbelievable. He is a leadoff guy and sees a lot of pitches. Werth is the same way. It's just going to make the team better. It's going to be good."
Harper acknowledged that Spring Training is long and wishes the season already started, but he still has to get better in the outfield. In the seventh inning, he threw the ball over the cutoff man's head, allowing the Mets to tie the game at 3. Since he arrived in the big leagues, Harper has been known to miss the cutoff man.
But manager Davey Johnson expects Harper to improve in that area.
"He'll be fine. He is working on it," Johnson said.
Harper also wants to be on the same page as Span, who will play alongside him in center field.
"I'm still trying to work with Denard and see how he communicates out there," Harper said.
Zimmermann stretches out with start against Mets
VIERA, Fla. -- After experiencing a dead arm last week, right-hander Jordan Zimmermann was solid on the mound Wednesday, while the Nationals defeated the Mets, 8-5, at Space Coast Stadium.
Zimmermann lasted 4 2/3 innings, allowing three runs (one earned), striking out six batters and walking two. He threw 82 pitches, including 54 strikes.
"I felt good. The fastball was a lot better today," Zimmermann said. "I could throw it where I want it to. I got a few guys 0-2. I tried putting them away and tried not to waste any pitches. They got a few hits. Other than that, everything was working today.
"The other time, I felt a little sore, but today I felt really good. It felt good to stretch it out and throw  pitches. I would have liked to get that last hitter, there were a couple of close calls. I'll take 4 2/3 [innings], I guess."
Zimmermann is still developing his changeup, and it was working Wednesday. In the third inning, Zimmermann was able to get Ike Davis to ground out to second baseman Danny Espinosa.
"It's good and it's where I want it to be," Zimmermann said about the changeup. "I have some days where it doesn't feel [right] and other days where it feels [right]. More times than not, it's feeling good. I just work on it every single day playing catch, throwing it and getting used to throwing it."
Gio's Nats teammates express pride in pitcher
VIERA, Fla. -- The Nationals were impressed with how left-hander Gio Gonzalez performed against Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic on Tuesday.
Gonzalez pitched five shutout innings as the Americans defeated Puerto Rico, 7-1, at Marlins Park. Gonzalez grew up in Hialeah, Fla., which is 10 miles from the ballpark.
Relievers Craig Stammen and Tyler Moore watched the Classic game together at a restaurant and noticed how dominant Gonzalez was in the game.
"It was good to see him handle the situation with a lot on the line," Stammen said. "He performed probably the best I've seen him perform in that situation. He usually throws a lot of fastballs and then, later on, mixes in his curveball. That makes him pretty unhittable. Last night, his fastball was really good. It was down and away, down and in. They couldn't hit his curveball because of that."
Said Clippard, "He looked unbelievable. He was putting his fastball wherever he wanted it. His breaking stuff, he was putting away guys. He threw a lot more changeup than I'm used to seeing him throw. It was a great outing. I was happy for him and the USA team, but it's good for us if he stays on that level."
Ohlendorf finishes strong vs. Astros
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Four batters into Ross Ohlendorf's split-squad start against the Astros on Wednesday, the Nationals athletic trainer came to the mound to visit him.
That's never a good sign, but it turned out to be only a broken fingernail. The right-hander settled down after allowing four runs in the first, getting double-play grounders in both the second and third innings of a 9-7 win over Houston at Osceola County Stadium. And that, he said, was something positive he could take from the outing.
"I was really happy with my sinker. I thought it was really good," Ohlendorf said. "I've had a good sinker in the past. I haven't had it the last few seasons. It didn't move very well. And now I feel like it's really come back. I would have liked to have pitched better, but I got some double plays, which was nice."
Said coach Randy Knorr, who managed the traveling team: "He was really trying to force [the sinker] in the first inning and trying to make too fine of pitches. He went back out in the next couple innings and really just let his sinker go, and it showed up and made him effective. He just ran out of pitches."
Ohlendorf, 30, had some success with the Pirates before shoulder problems landed him on the disabled list twice in the last two seasons. He was with the Padres in 2012 and is now a non-roster invitee for the Nationals, who hope he can provide some depth for the rotation. So even though he threw 60 pitches (33 strikes) in his three innings, he's encouraged because his arm feels good and his sinker is sinking again. He ran into trouble when he got behind in the count and also made a couple of mistakes with his off-speed pitches.
"I'd like to make a good impression so that if they need me during the season, I'll be ready," he said. "I'm just pitching when they ask me to and trying to do my best."
Rendon not letting up in red-hot spring
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Nationals manager Davey Johnson went on record earlier this spring saying that there was no way phenom Anthony Rendon would make the Opening Day roster. Of course, that was before Rendon continued his torrid Grapefruit League play by going 4-for-5 including the game-winning home run in the eighth inning of Washington's 9-7 split-squad win over the Astros at Osceola County Stadium on Wednesday.
No, Rendon, ranked the Nationals' No. 1 prospect and 28th overall by MLB.com, will still start the season in the Minors. The sixth overall pick in the 2011 Draft has just 133 professional at-bats, none higher than Double-A, because of a broken ankle last season. Then again, you'd never guess that from watching him play this spring. He's hitting .375 with four homers and 11 RBIs in 13 games.
"He's been doing it all spring. It's just fun to watch him hit. He's a very mature hitter for his age," said coach Randy Knorr, who managed the split squad. "He's everything we thought he was. You'd think he'd go through some struggles being so young, but he shows no signs of it. He's got no fear up there. He knows what he wants to do and he executes it."
Said Rendon: "It's always a positive when you don't have to go into the training room every day. That's one thing off your mind, so it's a little more free and easy right now. I always think I can play good. I just go out there and try to play my best. So if I happen to do good, I do good. If I happen to not, I'll get them next time."
• Micah Owings, a non-roster invitee who is trying to make the transition from pitcher to position player, started in left field and went 3-for-5 with a pair of doubles and two RBIs to lift his Grapefruit League average to .333.
• Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos will start his second consecutive game against the Astros on Thursday. It will mark the first time this spring Ramos will play back-to-back games. Manager Davey Johnson declined to say who will be his starting catcher for Opening Day against the Marlins. Ramos is competing against Kurt Suzuki.
• Johnson said that third baseman Ryan Zimmerman is still slated to play defense for the first time this spring on Monday against the Tigers.
• Johnson said starting Thursday his power relievers -- Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano -- will pitch every other day during the rest of spring.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.