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Washington Nationals Drop 10-2 Decision To Houston Astros, Stephen Strasburg Strong In Spring Debut.

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Mar. 3, 2012; Kissimmee, FL, USA; Washington Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper in the dug out against the Houston Astros at Osceola County Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-US PRESSWIRE
Mar. 3, 2012; Kissimmee, FL, USA; Washington Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper in the dug out against the Houston Astros at Osceola County Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-US PRESSWIRE

• The Grapefruit League home opener for the Washington Nationals started with 23-year-old right-hander Stephen Strasburg on the mound in Viera, Florida's Space Coast Stadium. Actually, it started with a moment of silence for Montreal Expos' Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter, who passed away this winter. After that it was all Strasburg. The Nats' no.1 overall pick in 2009 is finally healthy (after Tommy John surgery in late 2010) and he needed only 13 pitches to retire the Astros in order in the top of the first. A 91 mph two-strike change got Astros' outfielder Brian Bogusevic swinging to end the opening frame. In the second, Strasburg surrendered a one-out double to center by Fernando Martinez, but a weak liner to second and fly to left later the right-hander was through two scoreless on 28 of the 50 pitches he was scheduled to throw in his first start of the Spring this afternoon.

Michael Morse's plan to walk more this season (Cliff Floyd's going to smack him) got off to a good start with the 2011 Nats' MVP taking a free pass in his first at bat this Spring. Last year, the then-28-year-old right-handed power bat killed Spring Training pitching, posting a .364/.421/.818 ST line with three doubles and nine HR's in 21 games and 66 at bats before a .303/.360/.550 2011 season in which he hit 36 doubles and 31 HR's and finished at a career high +3.4 fWAR. Morse scored the Nats' first run this afternoon, coming around from second on a two-out bloop single to center by veteran outfielder Jason Michaels that got the Nationals out to an early 1-0 lead, but it didn't last long...

Astros' catcher Chris Johnson had a 76 mph 2-2 bender dropped in on him for a called strike three and Strasburg's second K of the day in the top of the third. But a 3-1 fastball from Strasburg to Houston catcher Chris Snyder ended up somewhere out beyond the left field wall when the veteran backstop launched it out of Space Coast Stadium to tie the game at 1-1 in the third. Strasburg gave up a one-out double by former Braves' outfielder Jordan Schafer, but came back with a brutal two-strike slider inside to get Astros' infielder Merwin Gonzalez chasing for K no.3 and the end of his first Spring outing. 2.2 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 3 K's, 1 HR, 44 pitches, 26 strikes. The second ER in Strasburg's line, and two more were scored with Nats' lefty Tom Gorzelanny on the hill after he replaced Strasburg and surrendered a 3-run blast by J.D. Martinez that made it a 4-1 game in the third.

(ed. note - "In spite of what MASN's radar gun said (it had Strasburg around 90-91 all day with his FB and they said on the broadcast the gun was old school = slow) Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore wrote on Twitter that he talked to a scout who said Strasburg's FB was more 92-96 mph. Off speed stuff was working too, especially the bender.")

• It didn't get any easier out there for Tom Gorzelanny, who struggled to throw strikes, gave up a single, three walks (one with the bases loaded), and threw a wild pitch (that let a run score) before a 3-run HR by Fernando Martinez made it a 9-1 game. Gorzelanny's line: 1.0 IP, 3 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 4 BB, 1 K, 2 HR. Ryan Mattheus replaced Gorzelanny, and got a grounder to short from the first batter he faced, but Ian Desmond made his second error of the game on the weak roller off the bat of the Astros' Matt Downs. Mattheus threw a wild pitch and gave up the fourth walk of the inning before finally getting the third out of the frame.

Bryce Harper got his first AB of the game in the sixth against Astros' RHP Lucas Harrell. Harper beat out a grounder up the middle for a leadoff single on a 1-0 pitch down in the zone. D.C. GM Mike Rizzo was in the MASN booth with FP Santangelo and Bob Carpenter during the inning and he told the Nats announce team it was only a matter of time before the 19-year-old 2010 no.1 overall pick was up in the major leagues. "He's going to be a big leaguer," Rizzo said, "It's not 'if', it's 'when'. If he stays healthy he's going to be a big leaguer for a long time. And it's 'when' is he going to start his career? And the answer to that is, when we feel that he's ready to take the next step in his progression and stay there and not have to go back to the minors."

• Veteran bench option Chad Tracy came through with an RBI single in the Nats' seventh, driving outfielder Corey Brown in with a grounder through the hole and into right that made it 9-2. Tyler Clippard gave up a fly ball to right that Bryce Harper dove for, but the right fielder came up empty in spite of the effort. Scored a triple by the former Nat and current-Astro hopeful Brian Bixler. Bixler scored on a sac fly to left when he bluffed Corey Brown and the outfielder decided to make an ill-advised soft toss in from the outfield. 10-2 game on the mental error. Drew Storen threw an inning in relief in the 9th, retiring the Astros in order on 11 pitches and getting son-of-an-Expo Delino DeShields looking to end the top of the frame.