- Associated Press - Monday, March 7, 2011

VIERA, Fla. | Nationals highly touted prospect Bryce Harper had the perfect answer after hearing fans chant “overrated” after he took a called strike in the eighth inning against the Houston Astros on Monday.

He hit a line-drive, two-run double down the right field line as part of a nine-run eighth inning that helped the Nationals rally past the Houston Astros 14-9.

“I’ve been hearing that since I was in (junior) college, high school … it doesn’t get old because I love it, I love hearing it,” Harper said. “I love people saying all that kind of stuff about me. I like all the bad stuff.”

Harper, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft, went 2 for 2 with two doubles — both in the eighth inning — with 2 RBIs and two runs scored.

Rick Ankiel hit a go-ahead two-run home run, Brian Bixler had a three-run double and Danny Espinosa had two hits and three RBIs. Ryan Zimmerman also hit a solo home run.

The Nationals struggled early as they committed three errors and received spotty pitching from starter Yunesky Maya and relievers Garrett Mock and Drew Storen.

However, as he has done several times this spring, Harper grabbed the spotlight.

Harper is 4 for 13 this spring with three RBIs. The two doubles were his first extra-base hits. They came against Houston left-hander Patrick Urckfitz and right-hander Jorge De Leon, who threw the slider by him on the pitch before the double.

“The second ball he hit was especially impressive,” Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said. “The first ball … the infield is so hard right now, balls are hopping. The first one was a high-chopper over the first baseman’s head.

“You’re going to get those now and again. The second one was impressive. The second one was another fastball (that was) up. That’s hard to get to, and he’s getting to them.”

The Astros, who got a leadoff home run from Michael Bourn and a three-run homer from third baseman Chris Johnson in the fifth inning, finished with 14 hits.

Houston also had a slight scare when pitcher Bud Norris sustained a mild strain of his right hamstring in the seventh inning. He was removed after throwing a 2-0 fastball for a strike to Ankiel with two outs.

“I think I just overextended a little bit and I just felt a little tweak,” Norris said. “I’ve never really had that before in my career. I’m not really worried about it. It’s just a slight one.”

Astros manager Brad Mills said unless Norris reports any change in his condition Tuesday morning, the right-hander isn’t expected to miss any time.

“I don’t think he’ll be sidelined at all,” Mills said. “When he left, the word back in the dugout was that he just tweaked it. It’s all precautionary. We didn’t want to push him. Right now, we don’t think he’ll miss any time.”

Houston is trying to get enough innings for the first four pitchers in its rotation while also getting a good look at the guys competing for the fifth spot. The plan was to have Norris follow A.J. Happ in the fourth inning.

Happ, however, gave up three hits and three runs (none earned) and walked two, including a bases-loaded walk to Washington’s Roger Bernadina. Happ was pulled after two innings. Henry Villar worked the next two innings and Norris came on in the fifth. Norris went two innings and gave up two runs and two hits while striking out four.

Notes: Former Nationals president Stan Kasten visited the team on Monday. Kasten said he’s been very busy since leaving the team, but declined to reveal what he’s been doing. He did say, however, that he liked the Nationals aggressiveness this offseason and he believes the team will be improved if it can avoid injuries to the rotation. … LHP John Lannan threw four innings at the team’s minor league complex and said his outing went well. … 1B Adam LaRoche had his first action in the field this spring. He had been bothered by what Nationals manager Jim Riggleman referred to as “spring training soreness” in his left shoulder. … LHP Tom Gorzelanny threw a bullpen session on Monday and is expected to throw Thursday. … The Astros had an adventure getting to Viera from Kissimmee on Monday when one of their two buses broke down. After taking on the extra players, the team bus arrived in plenty of time for Monday’s game. … Catcher Jason Castro is scheduled to begin physical therapy under the care of Matt Holland at the Methodist Rehabilitation Center. Castro, who had right knee surgery on Friday, is expected to be out at least six months.


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