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It's a three man race for final bullpen spot

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JUPITER, Fla. — Washington Nationals closer Drew Storen threw off a mound on Saturday, the next step in his return from a little elbow joint inflammation that stole most of his spring training and will likely land him on the disabled list to begin the 2012 season.

Storen came through the bullpen session, his first work on a mound in close to three weeks, without issue. Good news for the right-hander. And while there’s still no firm timetable for his return (Nationals manager Davey Johnson speculated recently that it could be mid-April), who the Nationals take in his spot on the roster is one of their lone remaining decisions before they head north.

Ryan Mattheus, Chad Durbin and Craig Stammen are the right-handers waiting in limbo as the Nationals finalize their 25-man roster and which one of the three the Nationals choose to carry will depend on the role they envision for that person. At this point, their individual performance will mean little.

“They’re not auditioning for me like they probably think they are,” Johnson said.

“I know what they can do. It’s how we come through these next three days and what’s going to be best for right now, with an eye on tomorrow.”

So let’s take a look at the candidates:

Ryan Mattheus: In Mattheus the Nationals have a hard-throwing righty who Johnson developed a great affinity for during his rookie season. He’s battled with overthrowing this spring — something Johnson attributed to the strong desire Mattheus had to impress and earn a spot in a crowded bullpen. In 12 innings, he’s allowed five hits (two home runs), walked four and struck out nine.

Mattheus’ would serve primarily as a set-up man for the Nationals, a sixth or seventh inning guy who could pitch a whole inning or be used situationally. He generally would not be asked to go more than an inning.

Mattheus does have a minor league option remaining on his contract.

Craig Stammen: Johnson would really like to keep Stammen on this team to give him a right-handed long relief option but with Tom Gorzelanny and Ross Detwiler already filling the long man roles, it would be tough for the Nationals to keep three long relievers. 

Still, Stammen is reliable, can be used in various situations and has allowed just three earned runs in 12 2/3 innings this spring, striking out 13 thus far. 

Chad Durbin: Durbin left the team on Thursday afternoon, rushing out the door after another scoreless inning of work to be with his wife Crystal, who delivered the couple’s second child, a boy, on Friday morning. He is expected to re-join the team in Fort Myers on Monday.

What Durbin provides is versatility. A veteran right-hander, Durbin is more than capable of pitching multiple innings. Of his nine appearances this spring, five of them have been two-inning outings. And outside of an emergency appearance after Chien-Ming Wang hurt his hamstring on March 15, Durbin has been exceptional. He’s allowed just three earned runs in 14 1/3 innings, walked only three and struck out 13.

Durbin also has an opt-out on his contract and that will most certainly be taken into consideration when the Nationals decide which of the three to choose. They would not lose Stammen or Mattheus from the organization if they didn’t place them on the 25-man roster. They would mostly likely lose Durbin.

– The way things are going, the Nationals are going to take their remaining roster decisions all the way through Tuesday afternoon when they play an exhibition game in D.C. against the Boston Red Sox. Assuming that Michael Morse, Drew Storen, Chien-Ming Wang and Rick Ankiel all start the season on the disabled list, they’ll still have to cut three. In addition to catcher Carlos Maldonado, it appears the final two will come from this group.

– The Nationals have not made final decisions on the disabled list status of any of their players just yet and Ankiel took batting practice on Sunday in Jupiter and the Nationals plan to take him on a day-by-day basis until they’re forced to make a decision. He could be backdated to March 27 if a disabled list stint is needed. If he does indeed need the DL, Chad Tracy is the likely candidate for his roster spot. 

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About the Author
Amanda Comak

Amanda Comak

Amanda Comak covers the Washington Nationals and comes to The Washington Times from the Cape Cod Times and after stints with MLB.com and the Amsterdam (N.Y.) Recorder. A Massachusetts native and 2008 graduate of Boston University, Amanda can be reached at acomak@washingtontimes.com and you can follow her on Twitter @acomak.

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