Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Bryce Harper reacts to striking out in his first at-bat of the spring.
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Bryce Harper's first at-bat in a big-league spring training game didn't last long, and didn't produce the result the 18-year-old Washington Nationals phenom or the crowd at DigitalDomain Park wanted.
And his second at-bat wasn't much better.
Harper struck out twice in two plate appearances, swinging and missing at offerings from Mets left-hander Taylor Tankersley and right-hander Ryota Igarashi.
Inserted in the game in the fifth inning as a pinch-runner for designated hitter Matt Stairs, Harper got his feet wet on the bases, then had to sit in the dugout for a while before getting his chance with a bat.
He came up to bat in the top of the seventh inning and swung at all three pitches he saw from Tankersley, fouling one off and then missing mightily twice at breaking balls. The crowd of 3,461 at the Mets' spring training home, which cheered as last summer's No. 1 draft pick stepped up to bat, groaned on strike three.
Harper got a chance at redemption in the ninth when he faced Igarashi, but the result was the same. He took two called strikes and watched a fastball sail by for a ball before striking out swinging at an 86-mph offering from Igarashi.
Team officials weren't expecting too much from Harper in his first game against big-league competition, and they aren't too worried about evaluating him at this point. Slated to open the season at low-Class A Hagerstown, Harper is in major-league camp this spring simply to get better acquainted with professional baseball.
"Nothing but neutral or positive is going to come out of this," manager Jim Riggleman said before the game. "Just to get the butterflies out will be good for him."
Playing against older competition is nothing new for Harper, who got his GED at 16 and then earned national amateur player of the year honors last season as a 17-year-old at the College of Southern Nevada. Today, though, he faced a major-league reliever in Tankersley who appeared in 168 games with the Florida Marlins over the last five seasons and another in Igarashi, who appeared in 34 games last season.