• Firsts: It's 50º and it's been raining for two days where I am, but it was 86º and sunny in Florida where the Washington Nationals opened the 2012 Grapefruit League season against the Houston Astros in Kissimmee, Florida's Osceola County Stadium. Former Nats' starter Livan Hernandez faced Nationals' leadoff batter Ian Desmond in the first at bat of the year, with Desmond taking a slow sinking fastball for a called first strike on the first pitch of the Spring season. Washington's shortstop and leadoff man ended up grounding out to short in an eight-pitch at bat that officially kicked off the 2012 campaign. Second baseman Danny Espinosa took a called strike three for the second out of the game before Rick Ankiel connected on a first pitch fastball for a two-out triple and the Nats' first hit, but their first stranded runner followed as their first half an inning ended on Chad Tracy's fly to Astros' outfielder Jason Bourgeois in center.
Nationals' right-hander Edwin Jackson walked the first batter he faced this year, and gave up a single in the second AB of the season, but a 4-6-3 DP off Astros' right fielder Travis Buck's bat to Danny Espinosa at second to Ian Desmond for one out and on to Chad Tracy at first and Jackson had two outs before a Jack Cust grounder ended the inning after 21 pitches, 10 strikes in Jackson's first frame as a Nationals' starter. One more first: Bryce Harper's first at bat of the Spring came with no one on and two down in the top of the second and the first pitch he saw was Livan's patented slow-bender. The 19-year-old outfielder singled to right, however, driving a 2-1 pitch through the hole before he was stranded at first on a Roger Bernadina pop to short. 0-0 after an inning and a half.
• E-Jax: Edwin Jackson got help from the Nats' middle infield combo of Danny Espinosa (2B) and Ian Desmond (SS), who turned two 4-6-3 DP's in the first two innings of today's game to help the new Nationals' right-hander work around the two walks and the single he allowed this afternoon. Jackson threw 29 pitches in two scoreless frames in his first outing in a curly-W cap. Jackson's LINE: 2.0 IP, 1 H, 2 BB, 0 K's, 2 DP's, 29 pitches, 13 strikes. Ross Detwiler threw a scoreless third after taking over for Jackson, but the Nats' 25-year-old left-hander, an '07 1st Round pick, gave up a one-out walk in his second inning of work and the two-run HR by Astros' 3B Chris Johnson in the at bat that followed the free pass. 2-0 Houston after four innings in Florida.
• Harper And Jesus: 19-year-old Nats' outfielder Bryce Harper faced 31-year-old, ten-year veteran reliever Brett Myers in Harper's second at bat of the Spring in the fifth. The second-year pro grounded sharply to second on an 0-2 pitch from the right-handed reliever who was named Houston's closer earlier this week, with 21-year-old Astros' infielder Jose Altuve making the play and throwing to first for the out, leaving Harper 1 for 2 with a single through two AB's. Roger Bernadina and Jesus Flores followed with back-to-back one-out doubles to get the Nationals on the board and leave their backup backstop 2 for 2 with two doubles on the day.
Flores is coming off a strong stint in the Liga Venezuela Beisbol Profesional, which saw the 27-year-old catcher put up a .330/.368/.514 line with 16 doubles and eight HR's in 56 games and 218 AB's. 2-1 Astros after five. If Flores keeps hitting like this does he become a target for a team desperate for catching this Spring? Can the Nationals afford to part with Flores? Who's next in line after the Nats traded top backstop prospect Derek Norris this winter? Jhonatan Solano?
• [CHOMP!]: Roger Bernadina singled with one down in the sixth and was replaced on the base paths by outfield prospect Corey Brown (who was acquired from the A's along with Henry Rodriguez in the deal that sent Josh Willingham to Oakland.) Bernadina, who's fighting for a role in the Nats' 2010 OF, ended the day 2 for 3 with a double and a run scored.
• LHPs: An error by Nats' infield option Carlos Rivero on a grounder to third by Houston catcher Carlos Corporan led to the Astros scoring their third run of the game. Nationals' left-handed reliever Atahualpa Severino allowed a leadoff triple by Astros' shortstop Jed Lowrie and one out later hit CF Jason Bourgeois (who stole second) to put runners on second and third with one down. Lowrie's pinch runner Brandon Barnes scored on the error to make it 3-1 Astros after seven innings in Osceola County Stadium. Nats' left-hander Sean Burnett allowed a walk but K'd two in a scoreless inning in the eighth, but the Nationals went down in order in the top of the ninth to drop the Grapefruit League opener to the Astros. 3-1 final.
• Strasburg vs the Astros on Sunday afternoon. And it's on MASN!!