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Martinez open to Harper hitting leadoff for Nats

Club's top pitching prospect Fedde optioned to Triple-A
MLB.com @JamalCollier

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- When first-year manager Dave Martinez arrived to the Nationals, he promised to be creative. On Thursday afternoon, he entertained an interesting potential lineup idea.

Would he ever consider Bryce Harper hitting leadoff?

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- When first-year manager Dave Martinez arrived to the Nationals, he promised to be creative. On Thursday afternoon, he entertained an interesting potential lineup idea.

Would he ever consider Bryce Harper hitting leadoff?

"Maybe," Martinez said. "We'll talk about it. Play with it, but before I do, I'll definitely have a conversation with him.

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Martinez actually asked Harper how he would like leading off before a Grapefruit League game on Saturday against the Mets; Harper smiled and said yes. He did so then because Martinez wanted him to get his two at-bats quickly before he left the game, but perhaps on some occasions during the regular season, the 2015 National League Most Valuable Player Award winner could also serve as the Nats' table-setter.

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"I think he's all up for anything really," Martinez said. "He just wants to help the team win. … We'll preach a lot about scoring first. I think teams that score first put a lot of pressure on the other team, especially with the lineup that we have."

Harper hitting atop the Nats' lineup would not be an everyday occurrence, and it's not even a sure thing it will happen at all. Martinez has said Adam Eaton will be his primary leadoff hitter, but Martinez wants to manage Eaton's workload as he works his way back from a torn left ACL. Harper has started 16 career games in the leadoff spot, but none since 2013. In 76 plate appearances batting first, Harper owns a .413 on-base percentage with four home runs and a 1.007 OPS.

Martinez was explaining his reasoning behind having the pitcher potentially bat eighth at times this season, which brought up the possibility of Harper leading off. Having Michael A. Taylor or Wilmer Difo hit ninth in that lineup construction sets up Harper for potential RBI opportunities atop the lineup. Washington has two potential leadoff hitters in Eaton and Trea Turner, but perhaps there will be a situation where Martinez could change things up.

"For us, say you have a tough matchup. A guy that wears us out a little bit, maybe you want to try," Martinez said. "We're struggling a bit offensively, create something early, create some excitement. What better excitement than having Harper lead off with a homer?"

Video: DET@WSH: Harper rips a two-run home run in the 3rd

Fedde optioned to Triple-A
The Nationals were impressed this spring with right-hander Erick Fedde, their top pitching prospect according to MLB Pipeline, who provided a bounce-back showing from a disappointing Major League debut last season. In Grapefruit League play this year, Fedde pitched in six games (two starts) and posted a 2.45 ERA and 11 strikeouts in 14 2/3 innings.

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However, there is no room for Fedde, who just turned 25 in February, in Washington at the moment with A.J. Cole poised to start the season as the club's No. 5 starter, so the Nats optioned him to Triple-A Syracuse prior to Thursday's game against the Mets.

"I saw somebody who, to me, throughout the whole spring, gained confidence," Martinez said. "That last outing, you could tell he was confident. He knows his fastball's back. His two-seamer's really good, he can throw a four-seamer 97, his breaking ball was good, his changeup is really good. That's good to see. A player who gains confidence like that, the sky's the limit."

Video: WSH@HOU: Fedde strikes out three over three innings

Most encouraging to the Nationals was his returned and increased velocity, which climbed back into the mid-to-upper 90s this spring after it diminished last season when he made his Major League debut. He made three starts for the Nats last season and posted a 9.39 ERA, and his fastball averaged 93 mph, but it fell into the low 90s and high 80s before he was shut down in September.

Fedde bounced back nicely this spring to clear any lingering concerns. The Nats still view him as a potential mid-rotation starter and someone who will be a contributor in D.C. at some point this season.

"He had a really good Spring Training," Martinez said. "The velo is back, which is nice. The conversation was very honest. I told him, 'Hey, at some point you're going to help us. So just go down there, knock the door down and continue to develop and be good. Because you're good."

Roark, Kelley not concerned about rough outings
Right-handers Tanner Roark and Shawn Kelley struggled during Thursday night's 12-5 loss to the Mets, but neither was concerned.

After three scoreless innings, Roark gave up nine runs and didn't make it out of the fourth inning. He was encouraged with his progress from the windup and said he ran into some inconsistencies pitching from the stretch in the fourth.

"Get all the bugs out now," Martinez said. "That's why we have Spring Training."

Roark will have another start in Florida to work out those mechanics. He will remain at the team's complex in West Palm Beach, Fla., after the club breaks camp on Sunday to keep working and rejoin the team for Opening Day, to avoid a long layoff before he starts the team's fourth game.

Video: WSH@NYM: Roark strikes out Rosario in 2nd frame

Kelley gave up three runs and a pair of homers in his second outing back after missing about five days in camp for a personal matter. Martinez acknowledged that Kelley was still playing catchup, and the reliever admitted it was difficult to match the same intensity at this point in the spring as he would for the regular season.

"You don't want to give up home runs and have ugly numbers in spring, but at the same time, I showed up pretty ready to go, moreso than usual, and pitched good right out of the gate," Kelley said. "To be honest, and it's a shame on me because I'm a veteran, but my motivation and adrenaline is just not there right now."

Up next
The Nationals are in split-squad action on Friday night with Cole starting at home against the Astros at 6:05 p.m. ET, while Jeremy Hellickson makes his Grapefruit League debut in Jupiter, Fla., at 7:05 p.m. ET against the Marlins. Both games can be viewed live on MLB.TV.

Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

Washington Nationals, Erick Fedde, Bryce Harper