The Washington Times - March 3, 2012, 12:06PM

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — A steamy afternoon lurks as the Nationals open the Grapefruit League schedule against Livan Hernandez and the Astros at Osceola County Stadium.

Bryce Harper starts in right field and hits seventh for the Nationals after going 0-for-2 with a walk in Friday’s 3-0 exhibition win against Georgetown. Harper, incidentally, was three years old when Hernandez debuted with the Marlins in 1996.

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Hernandez, who pitched parts of five seasons with the Nationals, signed a minor league contract with the Astros in January.

Earlier today, Nationals manager Davey Johnson was more interested in talking about his quest for bench help than Harper.

“Those things are more interesting to me than Harper bunting against a college team,” Johnson said, referring to questions Friday about Harper bunting in his second at-bat against Georgetown.

To that end, Jason Michaels starts at designated hitter (he can play all three outfield positions) and Mark Teahen at third base. Chad Tracy also goes at first base and Roger Bernadina in left field, as regulars like Adam LaRoche, Michael Morse and Jayson Werth stayed behind in Viera, Fla.

Johnson singled out Brett Carroll, scheduled to relieve Ankiel in center field today, as another bench candidate. Carroll plays all three outfield positions and Johnson described his arm as a “cannon” and throwing “pellets.” The 29-year-old has 175 games of big league experience, but split last season between the Triple-A affiliates of the Brewers and Red Sox.

Carroll hits right-handed, but Johnson hoped spring will reveal addition options from the left-hand side. He joked two of last season’s primary left-handed options off the bench, Laynce Nix and Matt Stairs, “probably hit .050 between them.” They actually combined to hit .229, but Nix is with the Phillies and Stairs retired.

“The right-handed side wasn’t much better,” Johnson said.

Edwin Jackson starts on the mound for the Nationals and is scheduled to throw 40 to 45 pitches. He’ll be followed by left-handers Ross Detwiler and Sean Burnett and right-handers Chad Durbin and Ryan Perry.

Washington Nationals
Ian Desmond, SS
Danny Espinosa, 2B
Rick Ankiel, CF
Chad Tracy, 1B
Jason Michaels, DH
Mark Teahen, 3B
Bryce Harper, RF
Roger Bernadina, LF
Jesus Flores, C

Edwin Jackson, SP

Houston Astros
J.B. Shuck, LF
Jose Altuve, 2B
Travis Buck, RF
Jack Cust, DH
Chris Johnson, 3B
Jed Lowrie, SS
Brett Wallace, 1B
Jason Bourgeois, CF
Jason Castro, C

Livan Hernandez, SP