WSH@HOU: McLouth extends Nats' lead with two-run shot

WASHINGTON -- When outfielder Nate McLouth signed with the Nationals this past winter, he knew he was doing so to serve as a fourth outfielder on a club with three clear starters at those positions. So it doesn't come as a surprise to the veteran that he has yet to see the starting lineup through the season's first five games.

"I knew what I was getting into," said McLouth, who started 125 games for the Orioles last season. "To be honest with you, I haven't thought much about it. I've just come to the yard and prepared and watched video and things like that, like I normally would, just to get myself ready."

McLouth's first chance likely won't come on Sunday, when the Nats face their first left-handed starter, the Braves' Alex Wood. Instead, manager Matt Williams alluded to a possible start for the club's right-handed backup outfielder, Scott Hairston.

But on Tuesday, Washington begins a stretch of 20 straight days with a scheduled game, which could present McLouth with some opportunities to get in the lineup.

"Of course, we want to get guys at-bats and want to make sure they're good to play when they come off the bench, and what helps that is them getting in a game and getting four at-bats," Williams said. "So that's part of our plan, but again, we have to look at it day to day."

For McLouth, his past experience as a part-time player has helped him with his approach, even when those steady at-bats don't come.

"You've got one chance a game, and you can't put pressure on yourself to get a hit," said McLouth, who entered Saturday 0-for-2 with a walk. "You just have to go about the same process you normally would, and over the long haul, things will be there if you just commit to the process and don't change things just because you've only got one at-bat."

Fister looking to begin throwing program

MIA@WSH: Fister strikes out Angle on three pitches

WASHINGTON -- Nationals pitcher Doug Fister hopes to begin a throwing program on Sunday as he works his way back from a right lat strain that put him on the disabled list to open the season. The right-hander said it's possible he could engage in some "light catch," but he first needs clearance from the club's medical staff.

"Things are feeling good," Fister said. "I've been doing the exercises that we've been going through, and I've been feeling better. So it's definitely going in the right direction.

"I think [Sunday's] a good day to start [throwing]. You find a lot of things out that way, so we'll see how it goes."

Fister, who dealt with elbow inflammation early in the spring, was pitching in a Minor League game on March 27 when he suffered the lat strain. The Nats put him on the 15-day DL two days later, although the move was retroactive to March 23.

Manager Matt Williams said that Fister did some "heavy exercise" on Saturday and should begin throwing within the next couple of days, if not on Sunday.

"The test is going to be throwing and extending," Williams said. "In a controlled environment, you can do a lot, but when he gets out there and throws a ball and wants to let it go a little bit, that's the determining factor probably. But so far, so good.

Harper: I feel 'lost' at plate during slow start

ATL@WSH: Harper makes a tough running catch

WASHINGTON -- Nationals left fielder Bryce Harper has endured a slow start to the season, and the 21-year-old is taking his struggles hard.

"I feel terrible," he said after an 0-for-4 game on Saturday against the Braves. "Plain and simple."

Harper stormed out of the starting blocks last season, homering twice on Opening Day and collecting multiple hits in seven of his first nine games. He's now opened 2014 in a 3-for-21 skid, with no extra-base hits and 10 strikeouts.

"I'm pretty lost right now," Harper said.

Harper's frustrations have manifested themselves in some emotional outbursts. In Friday's home opener, he slammed his helmet to the ground after a strikeout. After striking out again in his final at-bat on Saturday, he returned to the dugout and threw both his helmet and bat down the tunnel that leads to the team's clubhouse.

Manager Matt Williams said he's not concerned that Harper is getting too worked up, but he is considering not starting him in Sunday afternoon's series finale. With an off-day on Monday, that would give Harper two days to gather himself before the Marlins come to Washington on Tuesday.

"Everybody wants to compete, whether it's Game 1 or Game 162 or beyond," Williams said. "Bryce's frustration in the last at-bat [Saturday night] is he swung at a bad ball. At some point, there's that tipping point where frustration shows itself. It's often good to let it out, too. You can go out there and act like it's not bothering you, but it bothers everybody, so sometimes it's good to let it out. So we'll evaluate that tonight and talk about it and see what we can do tomorrow."

First baseman Adam LaRoche, a mild-mannered 11-year veteran, said that Harper's emotion can help, but also hurt.

"Some of that motivates Bryce," LaRoche said. "When he goes through some of that, he does wear it on his sleeve, but a lot of times, that's his way of getting it off his chest and being done with it. Instead of keeping his frustration in, he chooses to air it out once in a while and be done with it.

"Again, he's young. He'll learn that those 0-for-4s can turn into a lot worse if you carry them into the next day. He'll be fine, and we've all talked to him. It's kind of part of the growing pains of figuring it all out on his own."

Harper clearly has no intention of taking his foot off the gas pedal as he tries to escape the slump. He said he's still trying to find his swing and intends to watch video in order to see where he's putting his hands. He also plans to call his father, Ron, for advice.

After speaking to reporters, Harper changed from his uniform into workout attire, grabbed a bat and appeared to be heading off the batting cages to take some more cuts.

Worth noting

• Several Nationals have battled illness going back to Spring Training, and pitcher Gio Gonzalez has become the latest. The left-hander was set to see a doctor and go home early on Saturday. He is scheduled to start on Tuesday against the Marlins at Nationals Park.

• Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman took ground balls at first base during batting practice before Saturday's game, a possible indication that he could get the start there on Sunday. The Nationals have planned to give Zimmerman some time at first base against left-handed pitchers, in place of Adam LaRoche. If Zimmerman plays first, Anthony Rendon could slide to third, while Danny Espinosa could start at second.

• Right-hander Lucas Giolito, the Nats' No. 1 prospect, according to MLB.com, made his season debut on Saturday evening for Class A Hagerstown. Pitching at a full-season affiliate for the first time, the 19-year-old lasted three innings against the visiting Rome Braves, giving up four runs (three earned) on six hits, striking out three and walking two. He also surrendered a home run.