The Washington Times - March 7, 2012, 06:09PM

VIERA, Fla. — The Nationals and Cardinals played to a 3-3, nine-inning tie Wednesday afternoon at Space Coast Stadium, both sides deciding not to push things further for a resolution with inclement weather looming and the Nationals only set-up for pitching through nine innings.

It started out well for the Nationals with Jordan Zimmermann, the team’s final starter to make his spring debut, turning in three scoreless innings of work. Ian Desmond notched his first hit of the spring, opening the game with a leadoff double, and Carlos Maldonado saved the Nationals from a 3-1 loss with a two-run home run to right field in the bottom of the ninth inning.

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Here are a few other notes from today’s game and elsewhere:

– Desmond left the game after three innings of work, a surprise considering the rest of the Nationals’ starters remained in the game. But Nationals manager Davey Johnson said there was no cause for concern. Desmond, who played in Tuesday’s game in Orlando against the Braves, likely wouldn’t have started back-to-back games so early in the spring to begin with but he took an 0-for-9 out of his first three games and Johnson wanted to allow him a chance to get that first hit out of the way. 

He got his double off Cardinals’ top prospect, right-hander Shelby Miller, who was making his first big league start. 

“I normally wouldn’t have played him today but I wanted him to get a hit so he could sleep,” Johnson said. “He’s been swinging the bat better in BP. He came into the spring with some new ideas, he developed some new ideas over the winter, trying some new things that I didn’t much like.

“The last couple days he’s made adjustments (with his stance) and it’s a lot better. I wanted to get him in there, but back-to-back, this early, I would have preferred him to go over (to the minor league side) and get some ABs but (I decided against it.) He’s going to probably be mad as a hornet, he’s not going to play tomorrow because I’d like to give him a day off. Hopefully he’ll sleep good.”

– Nationals outfielder Roger Bernadina, in competition for one of the roles in the Nationals’ unclear outfield picture, played all nine innings on Wednesday. He started the game in left field with Rick Ankiel playing center and made an impressive read on a ball off the bat of Tyler Greene. When he moved to center, later in the game, he appeared to have a more difficult time picking up the ball off the bat.

Taking better routes and improving his read off the ball is one of the main things the Nationals want Bernadina to improve on in the outfield. Since all of his playing time early this spring has come in left, Bernadina said he’s more comfortable there right now with reading the ball off the bat. In general, though, he said he gets a good, if not better, read when he plays center field.

“I’m noticing,” Johnson said. “I’m paying attention.”

Johnson agreed that Bernadina appears to take better routes in left field than in center but doesn’t think the team should rule out his ability to play center field.

“He has all the tools to be good in center field,” Johnson said. “He got some bad jumps when I was managing, I remember one, we had a couple guys on it and one pop up fell. I just want to see if that’s an aberration. I’ll still use him out there.”

If the Nationals opt to keep Bryce Harper in the minor leagues to start the year, their outfield situation (or more precisely, center field situation) would allow Bernadina more of an opportunity. But with Ankiel seemingly at the top of the list if they’re going with a left-handed starter, Jason Michaels and Brett Carroll (both right-handers) also come into the mix to give the Nationals something of a platoon situation. 

– Nationals right-hander Henry Rodriguez will pitch in his first game Thursday when the Astros visit Space Coast Stadium. Rodriguez, who so impressed Braves second baseman Dan Uggla late last season that Johnson joked he heard Uggla asked out of the lineup Tuesday when he heard Rodriguez may have made the trip and then asked back in when he saw he didn’t, arrived a few days late to camp. His bullpen sessions have drawn rave reviews, though, so his first game action will be interesting to watch.

– The Nationals starters will begin their second turn through the rotation on Thursday when Edwin Jackson takes the mound for his second start of the spring. All of the Nationals’ starters will be allowed to throw up to 60 pitches this time through, up from the 40-45 they were being held to in their first outings. Johnson reiterated Wednesday that he feels his pitchers are ahead of other groups he’s had, as far as their strength goes, this early in the spring. 

Stephen Strasburg would then line up to pitch Friday night in Jupiter with Chien-Ming Wang and John Lannan splitting up for the Nationals’ split squad contests on Saturday. One will travel to Lakeland to face Justin Verlander and the Tigers while the other will remain in Viera to see R.A. Dickey and the Mets. Gio Gonzalez would then pitch Sunday in Jupiter with Zimmermann returning for his second start on Monday.