The Nationals cut four more from their roster today, optioning outfielder Roger Bernadina, right-handed reliever Collin Balester and left-hander Ross Detwiler to Triple-A Syracuse, and sending infielder Brian Bixler to minor league camp.
While Balester, Detwiler and Bixler’s demotions don’t come as a surprise, despite strong camps for all three, Bernadina was in competition for the Nationals’ fourth outfielder job. Bernadina’s option means that both Laynce Nix and Matt Stairs have made the team, along with Rule 5 pick Brian Broderick, a right-hander, who nabs a spot in the bullpen.
Bernadina caused quite a commotion when he showed up to spring training in impeccable shape and was very hot at the plate in the early going. He cooled considerably in the spring’s final weeks and finished with a .245 average, .310 on-base percentage, one home run and eight RBIs.
Balester was one of the Nationals best relief performers this spring, putting together an outstanding camp that ended with seven consecutive scoreless appearances. The only thing working against Balester’s chances in an overcrowded bullpen was the option remaining on his contract. He’ll go to Triple-A Syracuse after posting a 1.59 ERA in 11 1/3 innings of work in major league camp.
Detwiler, now a year removed from hip surgery, has reformed his mechanics — opening his body towards the plate and lenthening his stride — with impressive results. Earlier this spring, pitching coach Steve McCatty called the improvements Detwiler had made “tremendous,” and that the Nationals were “finally seeing the stuff he was drafted No. 1 for.”
Detwiler put together a 2.65 ERA in five starts (17 IP) gave up just three walks and struck out 12. His last act this spring, holding the Marlins to one run on five hits through five innings on Sunday, put the finishing touches on an all-around solid campaign. He did all he could do to make this team but became the odd man out, with an option, when Tom Gorzelanny locked up the fifth rotation spot and Chad Gaudin performed well enough for the long relief role.
Bixler, too, had a fine spring with a .324 batting average, .447 on-base percentage, two home runs and eight RBI. Bixler certainly made the Nationals notice this spring and showed great versatility in the infield.
That leaves Alberto Gonzalez and Alex Cora battling for the team’s final utility infield spot. From the looks of things, Gonzalez figures to get the short end of things in that battle — though not because of his body of work this spring.
Gonzalez was one of the team’s best performers throughout camp, easily outhitting both Alex Cora and Jerry Hairston Jr., but he is out of options and doesn’t provide either the veteran experience of Cora or the extreme versatility of Hairston, who can play both infield and outfield.
In 25 spring games, Gonzalez has hit .377 (20-for-53) with a .421 on-base percentage. In two full seasons in the Nationals’ organization, Gonzalez has hit .258 in 219 games at the major league level.