- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 24, 2013

VIERA, Fla. — A day after manager Davey Johnson scratched him from the lineup with swelling in his left hand, Bryce Harper went 3 for 3 with two singles and a double to raise his spring batting average to .431.

Whatever issue he had with his hand, the result of getting jammed on a single to right field Friday, didn’t appear to hinder him.

“I squared up three balls, so that felt pretty good,” Harper said following the Nationals‘ 9-3 victory over the Braves that was halted by wind and rain after seven innings. “I’m just waiting to get jammed up again and feel it, but I’ve been squaring up balls since it happened, so maybe that’ll work.”

Harper tried out a rubber guard that slips over his thumb and nestles into the space between his thumb and index finger during batting practice, but opted not to use it in the game because of his lack of comfort swinging with it on. He will continue to use it during batting practice.

“I can’t wear it,” he said. “I’ll wear it during BP and in the on-deck circle, but going to the plate, I don’t like the feeling, so I’m not going to use it.”

Several players use the small piece to help protect them from getting jammed, but Harper said from the outset that he was unsure if he’d stick with it. He was, however, entirely unconcerned about the swelling becoming a significant issue.

Harper has dealt with something similar before. When he was in Single-A Hagerstown in 2011, Harper developed severe swelling in his thumb over the course of a week. He tried using a guard then, too, but stopped after about a week.

“Hagerstown was way worse,” he said before Sunday’s game. “It’s all good. I’ll be fine.

“If it does hurt, I’m still going to play anyway, so it’s all good.”

Zimmermann sharp in penultimate tuneup

Building off his last start, in which he retired the final 18 batters he faced after a single opened the game, Jordan Zimmermann turned in another strong start Sunday.

Zimmermann opened the game against the Braves with three hitless innings, facing the minimum thanks to two double plays that cleared out walks, and stretched his streak from the previous game to 27 outs between hits (a full game’s worth) before Andrelton Simmons singled to open the fourth inning.

“It means I’m close,” Zimmermann said of the feat. “Obviously it feels good to get outs, and to get 27 in a row, that means I’m doing something right. I feel good. I’m ready to go. I feel strong and I can’t wait for the season.”

Zimmermann went six innings and allowed three runs (one earned) on six hits and three walks. He struck out four on a day when the winds were gusting at close to 30 mph and threw 85 pitches. He is scheduled to start for the Nationals on Friday in Washington against the New York Yankees in their final exhibition game of the spring.

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