LAKELAND, Fla. -- Chien-Ming Wang is the favorite to land the Nationals' vacant No. 5 starting job, and manager Davey Johnson stayed back in Viera, Fla., to watch him in Saturday's split-squad against the Mets.And so, at Joker Marchant Stadium, left-hander John Lannan didn't have the manager's eyes upon him as he made his second spring start. But with trade rumors persistently surrounding him at this stage, Lannan, due to make $5 million this year, has to know he's probably auditioning for more than just his own club. As far as the results of this particular audition, they were mixed. Lannan worked two innings, allowing two runs on four hits with a walk and four strikeouts. He was pleased to catch Prince Fielder looking at strike three with a man on and one out in the first, and not as pleased to serve up a solo shot to Brandon Inge and an RBI single to Brennan Boesch. "With two strikes, I need to expand the zone a bit," Lannan said. "With two strikes, I kind of left the ball pretty fat, so they could put it in play. There's always something to work on." Lannan had his work cut out for him on this day, given that the Tigers had starters Austin Jackson, Miguel Cabrera, Fielder, Delmon Young, Boesch, Jhonny Peralta and Alex Avila all in the lineup. "I think that's pretty close to what [the Tigers] are going to have out there Opening Day," Lannan said. "I haven't faced those guys in a while, but it was good to face those type of guys and know their tendencies. You'd rather face the best."
Espinosa gets assist from new teammate
VIERA, Fla. -- Manager Davey Johnson believes the Nationals' offense will improve because the position players are taking better swings at the plate this spring.
Johnson used second baseman Danny Espinosa as an example of a player who is looking better from the left side of the plate. It helped that teammate Mark DeRosa noticed Espinosa had too much of a loop in his swing.
DeRosa believes Espinosa will cut down on his strikeouts and raise his batting average once he gets rid of that loop.
The two go through a tee drill that DeRosa learned from Cubs hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo and Rangers infielder Michael Young. The drill helps Espinosa spray the ball all over the field.
"I really enjoy talking hitting, being next to Espi [in the locker room] and picking his brain on how he attacks certain things," DeRosa said. "There were some fundamental things I thought he did wrong. Talking to [hitting coach] Rick [Eckstein] and Davey, they agreed as well. I'm trying to change Espi's philosophies on the way he thinks about going about the offensive side of it. I'm just trying to help him.
"I brought him out to the cage and showed him a different way on how to go about it. I think it will cut down on his strikeouts. I think it will raise his average. Obviously, the power is there. He'll hit for a higher average and put more balls in play and he is going to hit more homers."
First spring games for Wang, LaRoche
VIERA, Fla. -- Nationals right-hander Chien-Ming Wang and first baseman Adam LaRoche played their first game of the Grapefruit League season in an 8-2 victory over the Mets at Space Coast Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Wang pitched two innings and allowed two runs on three hits. Wang had an easy first inning, retiring the side in order, while throwing just 14 pitches. The second inning was a different story, however, as the Mets scored two runs and Wang threw 28 pitches. It didn't help that he had problems with his sinker.
"The outing was OK, but sometimes the ball was too low and not in the strike zone. Next time, I'll work in the bullpen more," Wang said. "In the second inning, the sinker [was up] and too low."
Talk to manager Davey Johnson about Wang's outing, and he will tell you the ball came out of Wang's hand free and easy. Johnson said Wang's fastball was clocked in the low-90s.
"I was impressed with Chien-Ming," Johnson said. "In the past, early in the game, [his fastball] would be in the 80s. I could tell from the get-go, he was around 90 or above. He had great life, great movement. His command, I'm sure, wasn't where he wanted it, but he was awful close. He threw some good curveballs. He wanted to build arm strength. That's what he did. ... From what I'm seeing now, he is pretty much making the trip all the way back."
Johnson also hinted that Wang would be his fifth starter.
"When you think of it as, in the back end of the rotation having a Chien-Ming Wang with his experience and what he's throwing now, you know," Johnson said.
As far as LaRoche goes, he went 1-for-2 with an RBI single and a run scored. He didn't have any problems running the bases, so much so, that he told Johnson that he plans to play against the Cardinals in Jupiter, Fla., on Sunday.
LaRoche spent most of the spring nursing a weak shoulder and a sore left foot. The shoulder is close to being 100 percent, but he is still experiencing some soreness in the foot.
"What I needed to do was run a little bit, round the bases, stop and go. I wanted to see how it felt, and it felt pretty good," LaRoche said. "Not great, but good enough now. I hope the foot progresses every day for the next four or five days. Hopefully, get rid [of the pain]."
LaRoche said having the success on Saturday was helped by the fact he was able to play in Minor League intrasquad games earlier in the week.
"I needed that bad," LaRoche said. "I needed to go down there, for nothing else, just go down there and see pitches, see a guy go through a delivery. You can only get so much in live batting practice when they tell you what's coming."
Ankiel a late scratch; Bernadina OK to start
VIERA, Fla. -- Nationals outfielder Rick Ankiel was scheduled to start as the designated hitter against the Mets on Saturday, but was scratched because of a tight hamstring. He is listed as day to day. Ankiel hurt the hamstring against the Marlins on Friday night in Jupiter, Fla.
Outfielder Roger Bernadina suffered a sore right elbow on Friday after being hit by a pitch thrown by Marlins left-hander Wade LeBlanc. On Saturday morning, the elbow was wrapped in ice. However, Bernadina made the trip to Lakeland, Fla., and started against the Tigers and batted leadoff.
Outfielder Bryce Harper said his tight left calf is about the same. There isn't any timetable on when he will return to action. Before he is back in the lineup, Harper has to show manager Davey Johnson that he can run, which he hasn't done yet.
"It bothers me, of course, because I want to be out there every day playing and things like that," Harper said. "It's something that happens, and there is nothing I can do about it. I'm not mad, not sad, not happy, of course. I just hope we can get out there quickly."
Harper is 5-for-11 (.455), with five singles, this spring. Johnson said he is going to give Harper every chance to be Washington's everyday right fielder.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.