Bait and switch: Harper throws out runner, Williams not happy; Nationals beat Astros 2-1

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VIERA, Florida — Bryce Harper agreed: He looked as if he was taking his time getting to the ball. That was the plan.

His manager didn't like it.

Alex Presley fell for Harper's trick and was thrown out by the right fielder trying to stretch a single in the fifth inning of the Washington Nationals' 2-1 win over a Houston Astros split squad Monday.

Afterward Nationals manager Matt Williams said Harper should not have allowed Presley to attempt to go to second.

"The batter/runner's got good speed and he's going to try to test any time he can, so what we want to accomplish in that regard is to get on the baseball and stop him at first," Williams said. "If that throw is not on the money, he's safe. It was a close play as it was.

"You get in that situation and allow him to get to second base, one swing of the bat and that's a run for them," Williams added. "We want to make the other team earn it."

Harper said he understood his manager's position. Still, it's something he's liked to do since his days as a catcher before the Nationals drafted him No. 1 overall in 2010.

As a left fielder last season, there weren't many opportunities to throw behind runners and try to pick them off or get them to try to take the extra base. Now that Harper is moving into right field, he expects to get more of those opportunities.

"I think a lot of people probably today thought I was jogging to that ball or something like that. But it's part of my game — trying to bait people, trying to see what they do," Harper said. "There's certain things about my game that I do and that's one of them."

STARTING TIME

Nationals: starter Jordan Zimmermann survived a scare in the third inning when Houston's Robbie Grossman lined a shot up the middle. The right-hander blocked the ball with his glove, then got up and threw the ball past first baseman Ryan Zimmerman for a two-base error that put Grossman at third. Grossman scored when the next batter, Jonathan Villar, singled.

"When I leave it over the middle, stuff like that happens," Zimmermann said. "I looked at the replay and the ball was middle-middle. I was just lucky enough to get a glove on it"

Astros: Mark Appel, the No. 1 pick in the 2013 draft, gave up a lead-off triple to Washington's Michael Taylor, but then seemed to settle down. He went two innings in his first spring start, giving up a run on two hits. He was sidelined since March fifth with a right forearm strain.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: third baseman Anthony Rendon, who has been out since sustaining a mild MCL sprain in his left knee on March 9, is still experiencing soreness. Williams said the team wants to be cautious and not rush Rendon back.

Astros: C-OF Evan Gattis is still day to day with discomfort in his right wrist.

ROSTER MOVES

The Nationals optioned OF Brian Goodwin to Triple-A Syracuse and LHP's Sammy Solis and Felipe Rivero to Double-A Harrisburg.

Houston, meanwhile, optioned INF Ronald Torreyes and RHPs Michael Feliz and Vincent Velasquez to minor league camp. The team also reassigned INF Joe Sciafani and RHPs Brady Rodgers and Jordan Jankowski to minor league camp.

UP NEXT

Nationals: Stephen Strasburg makes his second spring start as the Nationals travel to Lakeland to face Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers.

Astros: will hit the road to play Pittsburgh. Starting rotation candidate Roberto Hernandez will pitch for the Astros. Jeff Locke is set to throw for the Pirates.

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