The Washington Times - April 2, 2012, 11:07AM

FORT MYERS, Fla. — When the Washington Nationals decided to reassign outfielder Jason Michaels to minor league camp last Thursday, manager Davey Johnson called it the “hardest” cut he had to make that day.

The Nationals liked what Michaels brought as a veteran presence in their clubhouse and the experience he could impart, particularly to Bryce Harper, whose locker his was conveniently located next to.

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But as far as an on-field fit, Michaels was beat out by Brett Carroll and late-entrant Xavier Nady for an outfield/bench spot. By the end of the day Thursday, the Nationals had announced they’d released Michaels, making him a free agent who could sign with any team.

Monday morning, he officially chose them to be that team — even if it meant going to Triple-A a month before his 36th birthday.

“I have a great affection for Jason,” said Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, the day after the team had released him. “He played great here, he was an outstanding teammate. It was no coincidence he was lockered next to Harper. He just wasn’t a fit at this time but I’d love to have him in the organization. I think he’ll help us or somebody in the big leagues very soon.”

Johnson joins a crowded outfield at Triple-A. Bryce Harper will get most of the reps in center field, sharing time with Corey Brown. Chris Curran and Jesus Valdez are also already on the outfield roster for Syracuse. The Nationals look poised to open the season with Jayson Werth, Roger Bernadina, Carroll, Nady and Mark DeRosa as their primary outfield options with Michael Morse likely to open the year on the disabled list and Rick Ankiel possibly starting there as well. 

Michaels hit .220 with one homer and one double during his time in major league camp with the Nationals. He also dropped two routine fly balls in left field. 

Johnson said on Saturday that he expected Michaels to return to the organization, this move makes that expectation complete.