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Nationals demote phenom Harper

VIERA — The Nationals optioned top prospect Bryce Harper to Class A Hagerstown on Saturday, saying the top overall pick in last year's draft needs to get more playing time to prepare for the season.

"He needs to go down to the minor leagues and get four or five at-bats per game to prepare himself for the season," general manager Mike Rizzo said. "And that was the reason we got him out."

Harper, 18, who hit .389 in 13 spring games, was disappointed but determined to make it back to the big leagues as soon as possible.

"Nobody likes to leave the big-league club," he said. "This is the life that you want to live every day, and it's just the process.

"I'm going to go down there and play hard like I always do and, you know, hopefully get back up here real soon."

MAUER IMPROVING: Twins catcher Joe Mauer, recovering from offseason surgery on his left knee, caught his first bullpen session of the spring and said he expects to be ready for opening day. "I don't think opening day was ever in doubt," Mauer told mlb.com.

A'S: Right-hander Rich Harden, who suffered a lat strain in his back early in camp, is unlikely to be ready by opening day, manager Bob Geren said.

BREWERS: Leftfielder Ryan Braun was pulled with a strained left intercostal muscle and is listed as day to day.

DODGERS: Third baseman Casey Blake left in the first inning with lower back spasms.

METS: Catcher Ronny Paulino arrived in camp after a three-week delay because of visa problems caused by his 50-game suspension for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs.

RANGERS: Third baseman Adrian Beltre, sidelined with a strained calf, is feeling better and could make his spring debut Monday.

RED SOX: First baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who had been out to rehab his surgically repaired right shoulder, had a single and a sacrifice fly in his first spring game.

REDS: Left-hander Dontrelle Willis left a split-squad game against the Cubs in the first after appearing to trip on a bat and limping back toward the mound.

Nationals demote phenom Harper 03/12/11 [Last modified: Saturday, March 12, 2011 8:03pm]

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