VIERA, Fla. -- A day after watching his team in a scuffle with the Cardinals, Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche was impressed by how his manager, Jim Riggleman, went about protecting his team.

Tempers flared during the Nationals' 7-2 victory over the Cardinals at Roger Dean Stadium on Monday afternoon.

In seventh inning, with one out and Washington leading, 4-2, Cardinals right-hander and former Nationals pitcher Miguel Batista hit shortstop Ian Desmond with a pitch. After he was hit, Desmond looked to home-plate umpire Fran Burke, wanting an explanation as to why he was hit. Both benches emptied, but no punches were thrown.

The two teams scuffled for about 15 minutes, with Riggleman and Cardinals skipper Tony La Russa having a few words.

After the game ended, several Nats players thanked Riggleman for supporting them.

"For what we are trying to do, with the direction of this club, it was the absolute best thing that everybody could have seen," LaRoche said. "To see a manager not only come out and protect his players and keep his players from being thrown out of the game, there was nothing fake about it. Jim was really angry. Protecting your guys is the best way to gain that respect in a hurry. You can't say enough about that."

There is no word on whether any members of the Nationals will be fined or suspended.

Nats liken Harper's injury to Brown's

VIERA, Fla. -- Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said Bryce Harper's sprained left ankle is similar to the injury that teammate Corey Brown suffered this spring.

Brown hurt his ankle on March 1 and did not play in another Grapefruit League game before being sent to Minor League camp Thursday.

Rizzo did not know if Harper would be ready for Opening Day with Class A Hagerstown. Harper sprained his left ankle during a Minor League intrasquad game at the Washington Nationals Training Complex on Monday morning.

According to an eyewitness, William Yoder, Harper hit a ground ball to short and didn't appear hurt until his foot hit the first-base bag.

Harper was carted off the field and immediately examined by the Nationals' training staff. He is currently listed as day-to-day.

"It's not a mild sprain. It's called a medium sprain, but everything checked out fine," Rizzo said. "It's similar to what Brown went through."

Center-field job likely between Ankiel, Morgan

VIERA, Fla. -- The Nationals continue to say that center field is up for grabs between Rick Ankiel, Roger Bernadina and Nyjer Morgan, but a baseball source said the race is now between Ankiel and Morgan. The Nationals continue to lean toward Ankiel, according to the source.

Although Ankiel was hitting .182 entering Tuesday's action, the Nationals love the way he plays defense and are willing to deal with his many strikeouts. They also love the fact that Ankiel can hit for power.

The Nationals also like that Morgan has been getting on base recently. He has seen his batting average climb to .234.

The final decision will be made by a lot of people, including general manager Mike Rizzo.

Rizzo said whatever decision the team makes regarding center field, it will be impossible keep all three outfielders on the 25-man roster.

Burnett could be part of closer by committee

VIERA, Fla. -- Although Nationals left-hander Sean Burnett continues to be a quality reliever, it appears he will be part of a closer by committee. Manager Jim Riggleman indicated that he may need Burnett in the seventh or eighth innings.

"If I could get to the ninth without using him, I would be comfortable with him having the ball," Riggleman said. "It's hard with what he can do to stop a rally before [the ninth inning]. Somebody has to shut the game down in the ninth, but you could lose the game in the seventh."

Zimmerman likely to return Friday

VIERA, Fla. -- Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman most likely will return to action Friday against the Cardinals.

Zimmerman has not played in a game since last Monday after straining his left groin against the Tigers. Zimmerman said he could play with the injury if it were the regular season.

Nats partner up to build Miracle Field

VIERA, Fla. -- The Nationals, in association with the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation and The Annette M. and Theodore N. Lerner Family Foundation, announced Tuesday their partnership with the Miracle League of Montgomery County, the Kiwanis Club of Bethesda, the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC)'s Montgomery Parks Department and the Montgomery County Recreation Department to construct the Washington Nationals Miracle Field in Germantown, Md.

"This partnership exemplifies both the Nationals' commitment to the community and the Dream Foundation's dedication to improving the lives of children in the Capital region," Nationals Principal Owner and Dream Foundation Chair Marla Lerner Tanenbaum said. "We are proud to partner with these organizations to help make this field a reality for local children with special needs who will now have a place to play baseball."

Scheduled to open this summer, the new field will be home to the Miracle League of Montgomery County, which provides children with mental and/or physical challenges the opportunity to play competitive baseball in a safe environment. Unlike typical baseball fields, this specially-designed field will incorporate a cushioned synthetic turf that allows children in wheelchairs and walkers to safely "run" the bases without fear of injury.

Nationals tidbits

The Nationals have decided to shut down right-hander Henry Rodriguez for a few days. They want him to work on his mechanics in order to throw more strikes. Rodriguez has walked three batters and allowed two runs in 2 1/3 innings. ... Right-hander Elvin Ramirez has yet to pitch in a game because of a sore right shoulder. The Rule 5 Draft pick is now throwing on flat ground, but there isn't a timetable as to when he will throw a bullpen session or pitch in an exhibition game. If he is not ready to play by Opening Day, Ramirez most likely will be placed on the disabled list instead of going back to the Mets. If he doesn't land on the DL, the Nationals have to decide if Ramirez remains on the 25-man roster or is returned to the Mets.