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Perseverance pays off for four Nationals in the form of spots on the roster

- The Washington Times - Monday, April 2, 2012

FORT MYERS, Fla. — There were times in the past year when Chad Tracy wondered if he'd play in the major leagues again. Times when he questioned what he was doing in Japan, if it was all worth it to continue chasing a dream that already may have slipped out of his grasp.

Monday afternoon, on a sunsplashed field at JetBlue Park, Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo walked up to Tracy as he stretched on the first base line and made it all worth it. A handshake, a pat on the back, and a spot on the 25-man roster were his.

"You go from figuring out what you're going to do for the rest of your life to now back to doing what you want to do and you love to do," Tracy said. "It's really emotional for me."

Once his head stops spinning, Tracy may reflect on the path he took to get here, on the spring he put together to earn himself the "most improved" label from manager Davey Johnson.

"It's been a long year," he said. "But, you know, this feels really good."

For Brett Carroll, it was a nonchalant message from Johnson in passing inside the cramped visitors' clubhouse at JetBlue Park. For rookie Steve Lombardozzi, a joke after hitting an eighth-inning double to right field and coming around to score - news delivered so casually the 23-year-old wasn't sure if Johnson was serious.

And for Xavier Nady, who was at home and unemployed 2 1/2 weeks ago and toiling on the minor league fields one week ago, it was moment where all he could do was shake his head and chuckle.

All four made the team Monday, an emotional day for them as the Nationals solidified 24 spots on their 25-man Opening Day roster. Michael Morse, Rick Ankiel, Drew Storen and Chien-Ming Wang will start the season on the disabled list, giving the Nationals enough room to keep all of the remaining position players in camp.

The team still has to cut two pitchers among Craig Stammen, Chad Durbin and Ryan Mattheus and will do so following Tuesday's exhibition finale against the Red Sox at Nationals Park.

But for the four players who got the news they'd been hoping for, Monday was a sweet day.

"Worry will drive you crazy," Carroll said, laughing as he recalled how Johnson sidled up to him in the clubhouse and slipped it into conversation that "Oh, by the way, you're on my 25-man."

"But I'm really excited of what's to come," Carroll added. "I really feel like this is going to be a big break for my career but also just being a part of a special team like this. It's got a lot of capability of doing some damage. ... I can't put that into words."

There is a harsh truth that comes with the good news that was doled out on Monday after six long weeks in Florida. When the Nationals' regulars return healthy, the fear of a roster decision not falling your way can return. But on this day, there is no space for thoughts like those. On this day, the only thing Johnson and Rizzo had to tell players was: "You've made it."

"I'm pumped," Lombardozzi said. "I'm extremely excited. It's a great group of guys, and it's going to be a great season."

NOTES: The Nationals plan for Morse (lat strain) and Ankiel (quad) to join Double-A Harrisburg at the end of the week to begin rehab assignments when the Nationals head to Chicago for Opening Day.

• Roger Bernadina was pulled from the game in the top of the first after he was hit in the right knee with an errant pickoff throw from Red Sox starter Aaron Cook. Bernadina, who is the frontrunner for the Opening Day start in center field, iced his knee and is listed as day-to-day. Johnson said he planned to play him Tuesday in D.C.

• Danny Espinosa hit his second home run in as many days in the Nationals' 4-2 loss to the Red Sox.

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