Bryce Harper drilled a single to right field in his first at-bat of the spring.
Some appeared to get the memo during a 5-3 loss at Tradition Field. For some others ... well, that's just not in their DNA.
"I need help with that a little bit," Bryce Harper said. "I understand we have 35 games this spring. But when I do play, I'm gonna play hard and try to be ready. I don't have a low button or a middle button. It's always: Go, go, go when I'm out on the field. So I'm gonna play like that, same as last year."
Harper certainly didn't ease off the gas pedal during his 4 1/2 innings of play. He stepped to the plate in the top of the first inning and took a mighty whack at Shaun Marcum's first fastball, roping a foul ball into the right-field corner that nearly took out the entire Nationals bullpen. He tagged another Marcum pitch into fair territory shortly thereafter, notching his first base hit of the spring, then later crushed a hard grounder to short off flame-throwing prospect Zack Wheeler.
Oh, and of course there was Harper's circus catch on a third-inning line drive by Kirk Nieuwenhuis, in which the ball struck his glove, then his right arm before landing back in his glove again.
All in a day's work for the 20-year-old, reigning NL Rookie of the Year, spring training or not.
"That's how I am," Harper said. "I think once you get on that field and you're playing, of course you want to be able to ease into things and whatnot. But I swing so much during the offseason that I try to be ready for spring training."
Johnson doesn't have to worry about his young phenom wearing himself out before Opening Day, but he does want his veterans to pace themselves for the five-week marathon that began today, the longest spring training on record.
Most of the skipper's players seem to get the idea.
"We've definitely got a long way to go," said new center fielder Denard Span, who went 0-for-2 in his Nationals debut. "You definitely have to pace yourself. You've got to be smart. I don't want to go out there and get too crazy and wear yourself out or get hurt."
Span was one of only three regulars in the starting lineup, joined by Harper and shortstop Ian Desmond. Johnson won't even use veterans Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche until late next week, recognizing none of them needs five weeks to get into regular-season form.
Those who did make the trip down I-95 today for the Grapefruit League opener put forth a solid effort, with a couple of notable highlights along the way...
-- Catcher Chris Snyder, in camp as a non-roster invitee, made the most of his opportunity to start behind the plate. The veteran -- known more for his defensive skills than offensive prowess -- clubbed a two-run homer in the top of the second, then singled in the top of the fourth.
"Good catch, no hit," Johnson said of Snyder's reputation. "I was glad to see him smoke the ball those couple times."
-- Desmond, picking up right where he left off last season, swung at the very first pitch he saw and lined a single to left.
-- Micah Owings, the former pitcher trying to resurrect his career as a position player, drove a ball to the warning track early and then singled later in the game.
-- Cole Kimball, making his first big-league appearance since tearing his rotator cuff in 2011, tossed a scoreless inning of relief.
All of this came in a losing effort, not that anyone inside the clubhouse cared about that afterward. There were no overturned postgame spreads, no pep-rally speeches from the manager, only the recognition that a team with serious World Series aspirations took the first of many steps in that direction on a late-February day in Florida.
"I was out there right before the game, I think my hand was kind of shaking a little bit," Desmond said. "That's just the way baseball is. We all love it so much, I think to get to this level you have to love it that much. ...
"We're all ready. I don't think there's anyone on this team that came to spring training to get in shape. We all got in shape in the offseason, and now it's just about staying healthy, not doing anything crazy. ... There's a lot of time left. Let's just break our bodies in nice and slow and just be ready for April."