- The Washington Times - Monday, March 28, 2011

The Nationals finalized their Opening Day roster on Monday, sending four players to the minor leagues and trading another to get down to the 25-man maximum one day before their spring training finale.

Washington traded utility infielder Alberto Gonzalez to the Padres in exchange for minor league right-hander Erik Davis and cash considerations. In addition, the team optioned outfielder Roger Bernadina, right-hander Collin Balester and left-hander Ross Detwiler to Triple-A Syracuse, and assigned infielder Brian Bixler to minor league camp.

The Nationals also officially put three pitchers on the disabled list: Chien-Ming Wang (shoulder) and Elvin Ramirez (shoulder) are on the 60-day DL and Henry Rodriguez (neck) is on the 15-day DL.

The moves awarded the final bench spot to utility infielder Alex Cora, the fourth outfielder spot to Laynce Nix and the final bullpen opening to Rule 5 pick Brian Broderick.

Including long reliever Chad Gaudin, who locked up his spot last week, and pinch-hitter Matt Stairs, the Nationals’ roster will officially include four non-roster invitees and a Rule 5 pick.

The final move was trading Gonzalez. The 27-year-old made a case to be the team’s utility infielder, hitting .377 with a .421 on-base percentage, but the Nationals opted for the veteran experience Cora could bring to a youthful infield. Gonzalez was out of options and surely wouldn’t have cleared waivers. In exchange, the Nationals got a prospect who is 14-3 with a 3.52 ERA through three minor league seasons and went 4-0 at Double-A in 2010.

All three of the players optioned to Triple-A Syracuse figure to make at least an appearance in Washington this year.

Balester was one of the Nationals’ best relievers this spring. The right-hander, whose demotion was simply the result of a numbers game, put together an outstanding camp that ended with seven consecutive scoreless appearances. The only thing working against Balester, who posted a 1.59 ERA in 11 1/3 innings, was the option remaining on his contract. Keeping Broderick and optioning Balester allowed the Nationals to keep the most talent in the organization.

The same can be said for Bernadina, the organization’s longest-tenured player, who perhaps did well enough to warrant a bench spot (.245 average, .310 on-base percentage) but didn’t step up and seize it the way the Nationals would have liked. In Nix, the Nationals get a player who can play all three outfield positions and is comfortable in a bench role. Nix hit .291 in that position for the Reds last year.

Detwiler, now a year removed from hip surgery, has reworked his mechanics with impressive results. The former No. 1 draft pick put together a 2.65 ERA in five starts (17 IP), gave up just three walks and struck out 12. His last act this spring, holding the Marlins to one run on five hits through five innings on Sunday, put the finishing touches on an all-around solid campaign. He’s considered a significant part of the Nationals’ future rotation plans.