- Associated Press - Monday, February 28, 2011

PORT ST. LUCIE, FLA. (AP) - Nervous? Not at all. Bryce Harper said he was perfectly comfortable during his much-anticipated debut with the Washington Nationals _ maybe even too comfortable.

The 18-year-old phenom struck out twice and didn’t see any action in the field Monday as the Nationals beat the New York Mets 9-3 in their spring training opener. But the top pick in last year’s amateur draft cleared a hurdle with his first two at-bats against big league competition.

“I felt really comfortable out there,” Harper said. “I might have felt a little too comfortable, so I’m going to go out there tomorrow and the next day and try to get a few base hits and see what happens.

“It’s like I feel way too strong,” he added. “I feel way too quick. I feel like I can turn over a 150 mph fastball. I felt really good. I just need to stay back on my back side a little more and try to hit it over the third baseman’s head.”

Harper entered as a pinch runner for designated hitter Matt Stairs in the fifth inning and finally got a plate appearance in the seventh. Harper fouled off the first pitch from lefty Taylor Tankersley, then swung and missed on the next two.

In the top of the ninth, Harper struck out on four pitches against right-hander Ryota Igarashi.

When Harper went up to the plate for his first at-bat, the Nationals already had a 7-3 lead.

“I wasn’t nervous,” Harper said. “After seeing everybody go up there swinging, getting their swings in and stuff, that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to go up there and get my hacks in, and that’s just me. I don’t like taking it, so I’m going to go up there swinging.”

Washington manager Jim Riggleman said he had hoped Harper’s first at-bat would come against a right-hander, but he was glad the young catcher-turned-outfielder could see both types of pitchers.

“I felt the pitches were really tough,” Riggleman said. “I’m sure he was nervous, but he was aggressive. He was really hacking at it.”

Harper said he is under the impression he will be in major league camp for only a couple more games, but he thinks any experience getting live at-bats against major league pitching will benefit him as he tries to make his way to the big leagues.

The left-handed hitting slugger is slated to start the season in low Class-A Hagerstown but is looking for a quick rise through the farm system.

He skipped his final year of high school, obtained his GED and played junior college ball at the College of Southern Nevada for one season in order to become eligible for the 2010 draft and jump-start his professional career.

Harper signed a five-year, $9.9 million contract, including $6.5 million in signing bonuses, with the Nationals last August, too late for the regular minor league season. He did play in the Florida Instructional League, hitting .319 with four homers, four doubles, a triple and 12 RBIs before going on to the Arizona Fall League, where he batted .343.

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