The Washington Times - March 29, 2012, 05:25PM

VIERA, Fla. — The Nationals cut three players Thursday morning, reassigning outfielder Jason Michaels and infielder Andres Blanco to minor league camp, and optioning left-hander Atahualpa Severino to Triple-A Syracuse, but they weren’t finished for the day.

They brought left-handed starter Zach Duke, released by the Astros earlier this week, in on a minor league deal and he’ll head to Triple-A Syracuse as starting pitching depth. They also optioned out right-handed reliever Ryan Perry.

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Michaels, who had an opt-out in his contract, was ultimately released before day’s end. He’s now a free agent and can sign with any team.

— Duke was expected to compete for a spot in the Astros rotation this spring but he had a horrid spring (11.30 ERA) and allowed 10 runs in 3 1/3 innings in his final start before he was cut. He’s spent a plethora of time in the major leagues, though, and the Nationals liked the depth he could bring them after they lost a little of their upper-minor-league talent in the Gio Gonzalez trade.

“I think that’s a good move,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson. “Our depth is not what it was last year, in starting pitching at that level. That was a good pick-up.”

— The Nationals were impressed by Perry this spring, the return on a trade for right-hander Collin Balester this offseason, and there’s a good chance that, if need arises, we could see him in the major leagues this season. But his option was one of the most attractive parts about that trade and the Nationals’ bullpen was simply too crowded to ever truly have room for him in it.