Disappointed Harper optioned to Class A

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

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

“He needs to go down to the minor leagues and get four or five at-bats per game to prepare himself for the season,” Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said. “And that was the reason we got him out. He was getting one or two at-bats a game here, playing in spurts, and he needs to get prepared for the season and get plenty of at-bats and plenty of reps in the outfield.”

Harper was a catcher while playing at Las Vegas High and at the College of Southern Nevada, but the Nationals drafted him as an outfielder and used him exclusively as a right fielder in spring training.

Harper was 7-for-18 with five RBIs.

“Nobody likes to leave the big league club,” Harper said. “This is the life that you want to live every day, and it’s just the process. I’m still going to go down there, to the minor league club, and I’m going to go bust my butt.”

Veteran Rick Ankiel said Harper blended in with the team, despite some pretty big expectations.

“He’s 18, and you have to remember what you were like at 18,” Ankiel said. “Not only that, but put yourself in your shoes of what he was going through and what he dealt with every day. I’m sure it’s not easy.

”But it’s fun having him here, and it’ll be fun to get him back,” Ankiel said.

■ BREWERS – Milwaukee left fielder Ryan Braun left an exhibition game against the Arizona Diamondbacks after the top of the first inning because of a strained muscle in his ribcage.

Braun started in left and wasn’t involved in any plays in the top of the inning. Greg Dickerson pinch-hit for him in the bottom of the first.

After the inning, Braun retreated to the clubhouse with Roger Caplinger, the Brewers head athletic trainer. Braun is 5-for-16 this spring with two homers and five RBIs.

■ METS – New York 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.

“It was a long process, but finally I am here,” Paulino said. “There’s nothing I can do about it, just have to make adjustments and get ready to play. I’ve been working out at the stadium of the team I played winter ball with (in the Dominican Republic).”

Paulino batted .273 with four home runs and 37 RBIs last season before testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug and receiving a 50-game ban. He still must serve eight games of the ban at the start of the season.

■ RANGERS — Texas moved right-hander Brett Tomko to its major league camp.

Tomko, who hasn’t pitched in the major leagues since Sept. 14, 2009, because of a nerve problem in his right arm, agreed to a minor league deal with the Rangers last month.

■ YANKEES – New York pitcher Kei Igawa has spoken with his family in northern Japan and is returning home after an 8.9-magnitude earthquake and tsunami devastated the country.

The Yankees said Igawa’s family is OK and that he is flying to Japan. Igawa was excused from Friday’s workout so he could try to contact family members.

In the final season of a $20 million, five-year contract, Igawa is on the roster of Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. The left-hander hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2008.

■ TWINS — Minnesota starter Carl Pavano pitched four more scoreless innings, running his spring streak to 13, though the St. Louis Cardinals still beat the Twins 3-2 in Jupiter, Fla.

Pavano was pitching on three days’ rest to line him up for the Twins’ April 1 opener at Toronto.

■ PHILLIES – Philadelphia and general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. agreed to a four-year contract extension.

Amaro, entering his third season on the job, helped the Phillies to back-to-back National League East titles and the NL pennant in 2009.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The Phillies have the most wins in the National League (190-134) and second-best overall, behind the New York Yankees (198-126), in Amaro’s first two seasons on the job.

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