PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. (AP) — Michael Morse hit a pair of two-run homers in the late innings and the Washington Nationals won their spring training opener by beating the New York Mets 9-3 on Monday.
Morse’s performance was perhaps overshadowed by the much-anticipated spring debut of Nationals prospect Bryce Harper, who struck out twice and saw no action in the field.
But Harper said seeing teammates such as Morse doing well at the plate gave him more confidence for his first at-bats against major league competition. He got his first plate appearance after Morse hit his first home run in the seventh inning.
“Morse just made it look easy, so I went up there and tried to make it look easy, but it just didn’t happen,” Harper said. “I wasn’t nervous. 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.”
Morse went 3 for 5 with four RBIs and two runs scored. His homers came off left-hander Taylor Tankersley and righty Ryota Igarashi.
Morse had 15 homers in 98 games last year.
“The first ball he absolutely crushed, but he had good at-bats all day,” Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said.
Though it wasn’t a good day for the Mets’ bullpen or defense, there were some encouraging signs for opening day starter Mike Pelfrey in his spring debut. Pelfrey said he saw some improvement with his two-seam sinker, getting a couple of groundouts with the pitch before leaving with the game tied at 2 after three innings.
D.J. Carrasco gave up single runs in the fourth and fifth and was charged with the loss.
Pelfrey allowed two runs, one earned, and five hits with no walks and one strikeout. He gave up a triple to Ian Desmond, who scored on Roger Bernadina’s single.
An error by second baseman Luis Castillo allowed Jerry Hairston Jr.’s sacrifice fly to score the second run in the third inning.
“It’s just a matter of going out there and executing pitches,” Pelfrey said. “I thought when I made a good pitch, I got guys out, and when I left the ball up there in the first inning, they were able to hit it.”
Mets outfielder Angel Pagan, tabbed as the team’s starting center fielder on Monday morning, homered in the first inning. Infield prospect Ruben Tejada singled home a run in the second.
Pagan will take over in center for longtime star Carlos Beltran, who is moving to right. Beltran told Pagan and new manager Terry Collins on Monday that he wanted to make the switch because of his knees. The three-time Gold Glove winner had decreased mobility when he returned last summer following right knee surgery on Jan. 13, 2010.
Pagan laughed off some defensive mistakes in which he missed opportunities to record outs on a pair of fly balls. The first one he said he had no chance on after losing it in the sun, but the second one he dropped.
“Isn’t it funny that I got to have the center field (job) and I dropped two balls?” Pagan joked. “I mean, I’m glad it happened because you are going to have some of those, too, and you’re going to have some tough plays, so you want to work on that, too. The first one I got ahead of the ball, so the ball came into the sun. The second one I let the ball pass the sun, so I made the adjustment, but it’s still tough to get the ball right in the sun. It’s going to happen, but … you have to stay with the ball to make the play.”
Notes: Nationals catcher Jesus Flores made his first major league appearance since May 2009, when a foul tip hit his right shoulder and led to excruciating injuries and rehab. … Cla Meredith will have more tests in Washington after leaving Sunday’s practice early with an injury to his right elbow. He underwent surgery to remove bone chips in the same elbow last October and could need surgery again.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.