The Washington Times - February 27, 2012, 06:30PM

VIERA, Fla. — The Nationals won’t play their first spring training game until Friday, when they’ll welcome the Georgetown University baseball team to Space Coast Stadium for an exhibition game with the college squad. They’ll open the Grapefruit League season the following day when they travel to Kissimmee to face the Houston Astros and old friend Livan Hernandez.

Nationals manager Davey Johnson has already mapped out the lineups for those games and he dropped a few hints Monday on who we would likely see.


Matt Purke will be the starting pitcher Friday against Georgetown and Anthony Rendon will play third base that day. And while he didn’t come right out and say it, you can plan on Bryce Harper making the trip to Kissimmee for his first spring training start on Saturday.

One of the main things Johnson said repeatedly he’s looking for more of this season is left-handed presence in the lineup. Harper provides that.

When told that Hernandez, a right-hander, would be the starter for Saturday’s game, Johnson sat back in his chair, and smiled knowingly.

“That works out nice,” he said, asking the media contingent if they could figure out just why that works out so nicely.

“Right out of the chute, they’re going to throw a right-hander against us and I can let the left-handed presence go out there.

“Although,” he added, considering the soft-tossing nature of Hernandez’s arsenal, one that features a curveball we saw clocked below 60 mph on multiple occasions in 2011, “I would prefer it was a hard thrower. At least the curveball will be breaking in to him.”

Harper didn’t start a single spring game last year but the Nationals plan to give him a real opportunity to make their team and he’ll likely get more than just the one start. Most likely he’ll alternate starting in right field on most days with Jayson Werth with the veteran less likely to start road games.

As for Rendon, he spent a significant amount of Monday’s workout taking grounders at short stop with Johnson looking on as the manager worked with several players on the same field. The shoulder injury that plagued him throughout his final season at Rice University doesn’t appear to be an issue anymore and Johnson noted that his throwing looks free, easy and natural.

As for his swing?

“I never had seen him swing,” Johnson said. “I like his actions a lot, his approach.

“(Nationals assistant general manager) Bob Boone said Anthony swings like I swung, with a little kind of a hitch, drop it down, bring it up. I thought it was much more of a compliment to me than it was to him, but he’s special.”