Denied a Strasburg-Harper showdown

Denied a Strasburg-Harper showdown
February 27, 2012, 12:44 am
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VIERA, Fla. -- Oh yeah, today's workout. Despite all the attention lavished upon Ryan Zimmerman and his new contract, there were 51 other players whose highlight of the day was not a formal news conference but a three-hour workout on the back fields behind Space Coast Stadium.

Today marked the first sessions of live batting practice this spring. For the uninitiated, these feature members of the pitching staff throwing what would normally be their bullpen sessions on the actual mound, with a batter at the plate free to swing away.

It's not exactly like a real game situation -- there's an "L" screen in front of the mound to protect pitchers from comebackers, and the large cage surrounding the batter's box -- but it does provide the closest thing to real one-on-one competition as these guys have seen since last fall.

There was major anticipation heading into today's workout because of the possibility of Stephen Strasburg facing Bryce Harper in the live BP session to end all live BP sessions. Sadly, Harper wound up in the wrong hitting group and instead was shagging in right field as Strasburg faced Rick Ankiel, Roger Bernadina and Mark DeRosa.

The young ace looked in midseason form, blowing away those three batters with relative ease. Ankiel and DeRosa each made contact, but neither struck the ball with any authority.

"I expected nothing less than unhittable stuff," said DeRosa, who had never seen Strasburg in person before. "I was proud that I put the ball in play. I did ground out to second."

Strasburg, who has never approached a pitching session he didn't take seriously, was generally pleased with his performance.

"It was good to get back out there," he said. "Everything felt normal, so that was good."

Harper may not have gotten a chance to face Strasburg, but the 19-year-old phenom did get to face another first-round pick: Drew Storen. That clash didn't exactly produce high drama. Harper took three straight fastballs from Storen, then whiffed at a breaking ball, during his first round. He later drove a groundball single through the right side of the infield off Storen.

Afterward, Harper was asked if he was disappointed he didn't get to face Strasburg.

"Oh, absolutely," the kid said without hesitation. "I wanted to face him so bad. I just wanted to see what he was about. If he made me look stupid, I didn't care. I just wanted to see what he's got."

There's still a chance we could get a Strasburg-Harper showdown Tuesday when the right-hander is back on the mound for another live BP session. Will Harper lobby to bat against the ace?

"I don't know if I'd want it," he said. "I don't know that I want to face him. I'm glad he's on my team. It would just be fun to step in there and see what he looks like from that angle. I watched him from the dugout when I was in Harrisburg last summer. That's as close as I want to get to that."

The most impressive moment of the day didn't involve either first-round pick. It did involve Michael Morse, who absolutely crushed a slider from Sean Burnett off the top of the batter's eye in center field, some 450 feet from the plate.

Morse downplayed the significance of his blast, pointing out that pitchers announce what they're going to throw before each toss. That does make things a bit easier.

"It felt good, but they're telling you what's coming," Morse said. "It felt good to actually square one up, though."