VIERA, Fla. — The Nationals made their first round of cuts on Monday, sending nine of the 54 players in camp over to the minor league side for the remainder of the spring. Not among those cuts was first baseman Tyler Moore and outfielder Eury Perez but let’s be clear: neither Moore nor Perez has a chance to crack the Nationals’ 25-man roster.
It’s certainly a compliment to both players that the Nationals wanted to keep them around longer and an opportunity to continue to impress (which both have been doing thus far) but Moore will most likely start the season at Triple-A and Perez, who played all of last season at high Single-A Potomac, will surely move up this season.
The cuts did, however, bring the Nationals at least one step closer to finalizing their 25-man roster which, to be fair, has very few question marks as it is.
The biggest area of uncertainty, outside of their surplus of pitchers of course, seems to be the Nationals’ bench (thus the wondering if Moore or Perez would be in the mix for a spot there). It’s an area of extreme importance for Nationals manager Davey Johnson, who likes to have his bench set up so he can make an impact at the plate late in games and outduel the other team’s manager and bullpen.
Last year, the Nationals’ pinch hitters hit .186 collectively in 2011 and they hit just two home runs. Needless to say, Johnson is expecting more out of this year’s unit — but Johnson said Tuesday that he doesn’t think it’ll be entirely finalized until just before Opening Day.
“That’s very important for me, the bench,” Johnson said. “I will be looking at every aspect of that. From the player standpoint and how it fits, offense, defense, you name it, I’ll look at it. I think that’s as important a position, the guys who fit with your position players.”
Here’s the way I see things as they stand on March 13:
Mark DeRosa 1B/3B/2B/OF
Jesus Flores C
Steve Lombardozzi 2B/SS
Roger Bernadina OF
Brett Carroll OF
This, of course, assumes the Nationals will start Bryce Harper in the minor leagues which, as has been pointed out ad nauseum, would be the most prudent route for the Nationals if they don’t want to lose Harper to free agency in his age 25 season.
Obviously the biggest wild card on this list is Carroll but the Nationals have had very positive things to say about Carroll thus far this spring. They like the right-handed option it’d give them when they’re not comfortable with Rick Ankiel facing left-handed batters and he’s got a rope of an arm that he’s shown off in all three outfield spots.
Jason Michaels is in the mix for this spot, too, but barring any seismic changes (like Harper making the team) the Nationals appear poised to go with either one of the two right-handed veterans.
What is interesting, though, is that Johnson said he’s already polled his coaching staff two or three times and there’s not a whole lot of agreement among them right now for who will fill the bench out. Johnson has no problem with that, going with the idea that the players will make the decision clear by the time the spring is over. Flores and DeRosa are already locks. Lombardozzi and Bernadina appear secure right now but on less stable footing than the first two.
“That last week, (the players) will have told us,” Johnson said. “I think about it, ponder it. I don’t really worry about me making the decision, because I know they will.”
– One note about Lombardozzi, who appeared at least at the start of the spring to be getting some competition from Andres Blanco: I don’t think I’ve seen another player in camp who has been working as tirelessly as Lombardozzi. Often times during the spring when the starters come out of a home game they’re long gone before the actual end of the game. There have been several occasions when Lombardozzi, pulled hours before, is not only still there, but coming into the clubhouse to change bats or grab his glove and go do some throwing (as he was late Monday evening with Moore in the outfield).
The Nationals have been high on him from the start and they’ve said since the offseason that they wouldn’t put him on their bench if they didn’t think they could find a significant number of at-bats for him so as not to retard his development. The fact that he’s a switch hitter is also highly valuable as it gives Johnson a weapon late in games. If teams are warming up a lefty and a righty to see who the pinch hitter will be, Lombardozzi forces them to be the ones to decide — that’s an aspect Johnson loves.
Blanco can certainly pick it, but at this point Lombardozzi looks like he’s got a ticket north.