VIERA, Fla. -- Bo Porter returned to Viera on Tuesday with hugs for former players, and a fresh perspective on his new club.
Porter, who was the Nationals' third-base coach for two seasons before leaving to become the Astros' manager after last season, made the trip back to Space Coast Stadium as his Astros faced the Nationals in Grapefruit League play.
"It's great," Porter said. "I have a lot of friends over there. A lot of friends, a lot of great relationships. It's not like we're being reunited, because we keep in contact constantly throughout the offseason and even leading up to today. But it's good to be back, to see a lot of these guys. They've got a good thing going on. It's a good ballclub, and they've got a chance to do something special."
If the Astros, who lost 107 games and are now moving to the more difficult American League West, are rebuilding, Porter refuses to acknowledge it. He was asked about the mindset in the clubhouse, and how he relates that message to his players, and didn't flinch.
"I didn't even know that word was in the dictionary," Porter said of the rebuilding term. "I haven't used that word, not one time, since Sept. 27 last year. And I'm not planning on using it."
Porter returns home to Texas -- he's lived in Houston for some time, and played his last Major League games with the Rangers -- with a fresh attitude for a club that desperately needs a facelift. But he still has plenty of connections in Washington, including more than 20 players who participate in his email book group that now totals more than 700 participants.
The group includes Bryce Harper, Drew Storen, Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond, and Porter says the group reads and discusses spiritual literature, including Tony Dungy's "Uncommon Life" last year.
And he still has a friend in Nationals manager Davey Johnson, who has kept in contact with Porter since the offseason. Since Porter's Astros are leaving for the American League, the two can talk about roster moves, what's happening in camp and any other issues that may arise.
"When you have someone of Davey's accomplishments and he's readily available to help you, I would be foolish not to take advantage of that," Porter said.
Said Johnson: "He's the perfect man for the job. I know that he's a big loss here, but I think he's fully prepared to be an outstanding manager in the Major Leagues, in a rebuilding program, obviously. He's very fundamentally sound in all aspects of the game, and he's a great judge of talent. So I look for him to be there a long time. So it's great, I told him, you can be in your hometown. It doesn't get any better than that. I wish him nothing but the best."
Nats' Soriano does quick work in Grapefruit debut
VIERA, Fla. -- Nationals reliever Rafael Soriano threw a quick seventh inning against the Astros on Tuesday, recording one strikeout in his Grapefruit League debut.
Soriano got a little help from catcher Kurt Suzuki and, perhaps, the Space Coast Stadium ballpark dimensions in the inning that lasted just 12 pitches. He threw seven strikes.
Soriano faced Justin Maxwell to lead off the inning, who hit his 1-0 offering well, about 400 feet to deep center field, before Corey Brown brought it in for the first out.
J.D. Martinez then singled on a grounder past a diving Zach Walters at shortstop, but was gunned down by Suzuki trying to steal. Soriano retired the next hitter, Robbie Grossman, swinging to end the inning.
"He's a character, to say the least," manager Davey Johnson said of Soriano. "He knows what he needs to do to get ready. He threw the ball good. He was a little frustrated that we had all those rallies. He was ready to go. He said he was down there throwing knuckleballs and stuff trying to kill some time."
Soriano, 33, was acquired by the Nationals this winter to be the team's new closer despite an already-loaded bullpen that includes Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard, who both have experience closing games.
Johnson said that Soriano will probably make about eight appearances this spring.
"He's been throwing several [live bullpen sessions], and he's been throwing good," Johnson said. "He knows what he needs to do to get ready."
Ramos takes big step, gets back behind plate
VIERA, Fla. -- Catcher Wilson Ramos made the final step in his recovery from right knee surgery, catching three innings of action in the Nationals' 7-1 win against the Astros on Tuesday.
Ramos caught starter Dan Haren, diving to block one ball in the third inning, something the Nationals were keeping a close eye on.
"I didn't even really think about it, honestly," Haren said. "I don't even know what happened to him last year. … But he seemed like he's been catching for a while back there. I didn't see him stabbing at balls or anything. He's a nice big target."
Ramos -- who tore his ACL and meniscus on May 12 last year, and hadn't participated in game action since -- has been taking part in all drills with catchers since he arrived at camp. But his progress, from catching back-to-back bullpen sessions and blocking balls to sliding on the basepaths, has been steady.
"I'll go slow with him and work him up to the whole deal," manager Davey Johnson said. "We've got plenty of time in the spring. He showed a pretty good bat the other day, he won that ballgame leading off with a double the second time up."
Ramos made his Grapefruit League debut on Sunday, pinch-hitting in the designated hitter spot. He grounded out and doubled to center field.
Johnson said Ramos will likely continue to balance designated hitter and catching duties while he recuperates.
Haren: 'A lot of good stuff' in start
VIERA, Fla. -- It being a Spring Training start, Dan Haren was able to look at his third-inning hiccup on Tuesday as a positive.
The Nationals right-hander cruised through the first two frames of his second Grapefruit League start, retiring the first six Astros hitters he faced, before surrendering a run on two hits and a walk in the third.
"In Spring Training, if you do good, you feel great. If you do bad, you're just working on stuff," Haren joked. "That's what everyone says. So I was just working on things in the third inning. It is good, probably. You build endurance through pushing yourself. I got pushed that third inning. The walk kind of frustrated me, but besides that, two singles -- one of them was hit fairly well -- but besides that, I got most balls where I wanted them today."
Haren said most of his 50 pitches (34 were strikes) were fastballs and cutters, while mixing in one curveball and a handful of split-fingers. His final line: three innings, two hits, one earned run, one walk and two strikeouts.
"My split is a work in progress," Haren said. "Probably next game, I've got to focus a little bit on it. [Jose Altuve's RBI single] was a two-strike split, which just can't happen. A long ways to go, but definitely for the most part, a lot of good stuff."
Haren has been making an effort this spring to work the inside half of the plate against right-handers, and said he was pleased with his ability to do so on Tuesday. He expects to jump to 60-70 pitches in his next outing, which will come against the Tigers in Lakeland on March 10.
"As long as I come out and feel good, I'm just trying to really take care of myself in between," Haren said. "I'm doing a lot more in between starts in preparation for the start. Just recovery, and I want to go out there and feel good 30 times and help the team. I'm going to be out there regardless of how I feel. Am I going to feel great? Am I going to feel good? I'll be out there, though."
• Nationals outfielder Roger Bernadina was 1-for-4 with an RBI as the Netherlands defeated Australia, 4-1, in the first round of World Baseball Classic pool play late Monday night ET. As the pool's runner-up, the Netherlands advances to the second round of play in Tokyo.
Bernadina played center field and batted third. He is 2-for-13 in the event with a double, a run and three RBIs.
Nationals Minor Leaguer Randolph Oduber played left field and hit ninth, going 0-for-3 with a walk in his first game action of the tournament.
• Johnson said he was pleased with the report he got from Chris Young's outing yesterday, when Young pitched in a Minor League intrasquad game on the Nationals' off-day.
Young allowed two unearned runs in two innings, striking out one and walking none. He threw 41 pitches (26 strikes).
"He's moving along," Johnson said. "He's not where he wants to be, but he's right on schedule to be ready when the bell rings. I'm not at all concerned about him. He knows what he has to do."
Young is expected to start next Saturday against the Marlins, taking Ross Detwiler's spot in the rotation as Detwiler plays for Team USA in the Classic.
• Henry Rodriguez was scheduled to throw a live bating-practice session on Tuesday morning, and likely make his first game appearance on Friday.
"He's recovery from that elbow surgery where they took a chip out, so I'll go slow with him in bringing him back," Johnson said. "The first couple outings are probably going to be portions of an inning."
• The Nationals re-assigned left-hander Matt Purke to Minor League camp on Tuesday. Johnson said Purke, recovering from summer shoulder surgery, has been throwing bullpen sessions at about 50 percent, and could be ready to pitch in games by May.
"His rehab's coming along great," Johnson said. "But he's not going to be ready to work here, so we're going to send him over there to continue. He's doing great. Should be back here soon."