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Strasburg struggles, Harper in center as Braves beat Nats

Thursday - 3/15/2012, 12:02am  ET

Craig Heist, wtop.com

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. Stephen Strasburg struggled with his command giving up four runs on five hits over four innings on Wednesday as the Braves came from behind to beat the Nationals 6-5 in Grapefruit League play.

Strasburg gave up a two-out single to Brian McCann in the first inning, which was followed by a Dan Uggla two-run homer run to right field to give the Braves the lead. With the bases loaded in the third, Uggla hit a sacrifice fly to left which Mark Teahen hauled in on the warning track. Strasburg then gave up a solo homer to Jason Heyward in the fourth.

Strasburg has now made three spring starts going 9 2/3 innings, giving up eight runs, 11 hits, and three home runs. Manager Davey Johnson had a talk with young pitcher in the dugout after his night was over.

"I didn't like what I was seeing," Johnson said. "He was overthrowing and missing his spots. Like I said before with power pitchers, he is just trying to get more out of it than he needs to, it's location and not power. This time of year, it's always frustrating with all the hype around him to be perfect. He just needs to relax and start hitting his spots. He got up, didn't hit his spots and didn't pitch. He basically overthrew."

Never was that more evident than in the first inning with Uggla when Strasburg tried to get a 98-mph fast ball past a fastball hitter on a 1-2 count.

"My stubborn self, I wanted to blow it past him and sure enough, he was on it," Strasburg said. "That is immaturity, yes. That's not what the best pitchers in the game do. That's something I'm going to have to learn as time goes on and I get more experience. I'm going to learn when I'm out there in the heat of battle, to not necessarily think, okay, I'm going to just rear back and throw this by him because I'm sure you guys know, that's his MO. He hits fastballs."

For as hard as it may be to get a young pitcher with the amount of talent Strasburg possesses to dial it back a notch, Johnson is hoping that happens and he won't overthrow as much in his last few starts of the spring.

"It's too early," he said. "I keep trying to tell him we're not in the regular season. You're building arm strength, you're hitting your spots, and you're working on your rhythm. When he tried to get the ball down, he was missing bad and then he was missing bad up. But I think he got enough work in to get something out of it and he got a little tired."

The Nationals hit two home runs in the fourth inning. Chad Tracy blasted a two run shot and then two batters later, Jesus Flores hit a solo to the opposite field.

Trailing 4-3 in the eighth, the Nationals got an RBI single from Tracy and then a run scoring double by Carlos Maldanado to take a 5-4 lead.

The Braves then answered with two runs in the bottom of the inning to regain the lead against Ryan Mattheus. Jordan Parraz hit a solo homer to tie the game at 5-5. After Mattheus gave up a pair of infield singles to put runners at first and second, Luis Durango singled home the go-ahead run.

Harper starts in center

After missing the last six games with a tight left calf muscle, Bryce Harper was back in the starting lineup against the Braves but this time he got the start in centerfield. Harper went 0-for-2, with a walk and had two put-outs in center.

Harper was told before the game he would be the starting center fielder as Rick Ankiel is still not healthy enough to play. He is dealing with a tight left hamstring.

"He's a gifted athlete and the report I got from [third base coach Bo Porter], I told Bo I decided he was healthy enough and with the other guys dropping down, needing a couple of more days, I would give him some time in center," Manager Davey Johnson said. "I ask him to ask him what he thought about playing center and Bryce was like, yea, yea, yea."

"I was excited," Harper said. "I like center field a lot. It's a lot easier to play out there, the angles to the ball and being able to see the whole field, so, it's one of my favorite spots and it was good to get out there."

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