VIERA, Fla. — The Washington Nationals made their first round of cuts on Sunday afternoon, re-assigning left-handers Bill Bray, Will Ohman and Brandon Mann, along with right-hander Tanner Roark, to minor league camp.
“I’ve just got too many pitchers and I can’t get them all the work they need,” manager Davey Johnson said. “It’s that simple.”
The four pitchers were all cut for different reasons but the most surprising of the cuts is Bray, a veteran lefty who is in his second stint with the organization. The Nationals signed Bray early in December and he appeared to be one of the top contenders for a left-handed relief spot in a bullpen stacked with righties.
Injuries in 2011 forced Bray to alter his mechanics to compensate and he’s been working all spring on readjusting them. Most important for him is his arm slot, which has migrated to a position closer to his head. When he’s most effective, Bray’s arm releases further away from his body.
The Nationals felt it was best for him to continue to work on that in a less stressful environment and where he could get more innings in which to do it.
“We still like him a lot, like his makeup, like everything about him, but we’d like to get him back a little more to his form when he was here (in previous years),” Johnson said. “I’d love to be able to let him work some things out over there and then call him back, even during the spring as we progress.”
Johnson explained as much to Bray, pointing out the successes the team has had in helping other players who’d fallen into some bad habits in their careers and dealt with injuries, like Zach Duke and Michael Gonzalez, return to form.
“In a lot of ways he’s right,” Bray said. “When that bell goes off out there, you compete with what you’ve got. You can’t worry about your mechanics. So that’s what I’m going to do.”
Bray, however, could still find himself in contention for a spot on the Opening Day roster if he can work through some of those issues on the minor league side. If the Nationals deal with an injury in their relief corps over the course of the spring, that could affect Bray’s situation as well.
“I think that’s definitely an option,” Johnson said. “It’s no secert I’d prefer to have a little more left-handed presence in our bullpen.”
Bray does not have a spring training opt-out in his minor league contract, so he has to accept the assignment, but he does have one that he could activate later in the season.
Cutting Bray does have an impact on one of the left-handers remaining in camp, though, as it appears that Fernando Abad’s chances of making the team improve with Bray out of the picture, even for a short while. Abad has impressed the Nationals thus far and Johnson indicated that he would get a good long look in the spring for a possible role as a left-handed reliever.
As for the Nationals’ other cuts, Ohman never really got much of a chance to prove he deserved to stay longer when a hamstring issue derailed him at the start of camp. The veteran left-hander pitched the sixth inning on Sunday afternoon and Johnson spoke with him before the game ended about his re-assignment.
Johnson was not certain if Ohman had an opt-out in his contract and could therefore reject the assignment, but he believed he might have.
Mann, a former Tampa Bay farmhand, pitched in Japan the past two seasons. In two games, Mann pitched 1 2/3 innings and allowed three runs off three hits. Roark is one of the Nationals’ starting prospects. He appeared just twice as well, allowing four runs off four hits in 2 1/3 innings.
“I’m running out of innings to have for (Ohman) to be able to have a fair shot up here,” Johnson said. “Mann, he just needs more work and Roark needs to be stretched out and I have no chance to stretch him out here.”