Harper homers, Scherzer sharp as Nationals beat Astros

KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) - Max Scherzer reached base Friday.

It wasn't much, just a walk in the third inning. Not as impressive as Bryce Harper's first home run this spring in the Washington Nationals' 7-5 victory over the Houston Astros.

But Scherzer's two plate appearances served as a reminder that the Nationals' new $210 million right-hander will have to bat again as a National Leaguer after five years in the American League.

''I thought it was strike three,'' Scherzer said of ball four from Jake Buchanan. ''I have no clue where the strike zone is right now, as evident by my first at-bat (a strikeout).

''Now I've got to start turning it up hitting, try to see some more pitches and figure out where the strike zone it. I know exactly where it is on the mound, but when you're in the batter's box I have no clue.''

Scherzer was a respectable hitting pitcher with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2009, his last season in the National League.

''I hit .225,'' he said. ''That feather's still in my cap, but I'm aged now. I'm 30. It's going to be a challenge to try and get a few knocks now.''

Actually it was .226 in 2009. He had one hit in 17 at-bats in five seasons with the Detroit Tigers.

''I remember the way I prepared when I was with Arizona. You just have to try and keep it simple and try to hit the ball back up the middle,'' he said. ''Now it's time to start getting into it.''

Harper got in into Buchanan's pitch and hit it out in the third inning, his first homer in 21 spring at-bats.

Kila Ka'aihue hit his third homer for the Nationals off Asher Wojciechowski in the seventh.

Luis Valbuena also homered for the Astros, who played from behind after the Nationals batted around in a four-run first inning off Samuel Deduno.

Deduno is competing with Wojciechowski, Dan Straily and Roberto Hernandez for a spot in Houston's rotation, although another spot might open up if Brett Oberholtzer, set back by a lat strain, cannot be ready.

Deduno gave up four runs on four hits and four walks in two innings Friday.

''He was pretty frustrated with that first inning, spraying the ball around the plate,'' said Astros manager A.J. Hinch.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: 3B Anthony Rendon (left knee sprain) and 2B Yunel Escobar (strained oblique) are still hopeful for the start of the regular season, but the status of OF Nate McLouth (shoulder surgery) ''is probably in jeopardy,'' according to manager Matt Williams.

Astros: Evan Gattis played left field in a minor league game, but his sore wrist is still keeping him from hitting.

STARTING TIME

Nationals: Scherzer gave up three hits, including a home run by Jason Castro, while striking out six in five innings. ''My off-speed pitches are really progressing,'' he said. ''I'm throwing the ball well. No walks, so that's good stuff to keep going forward.''

Astros: Deduno's problems started with leadoff hitter Tony Gwynn Jr. ''When I walked the first batter, I tried to be more perfect,'' he said. Three hits and two more walks followed in a 34-pitch inning. He will get his third spring start against the Yankees in Tampa.

NOT FOR OPENERS

Scherzer has never started on opening day and doesn't seem to care if he gets the nod for the Nationals' opener on April 6 against the New York Mets. ''It really doesn't mean anything,'' he said. ''Opening day is more publicity than anything.''

UP NEXT

Nationals: Jordan Zimmermann will pitch against the Marlins at Viera, and Taylor Jordan will face the Braves at Disney.

Astros: Dallas Keuchel will get his third start against the Yankees in Tampa.

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