VIERA, Fla. — In the morning, Washington Nationals outfielder Brett Carroll watched as the man who'd been his primary competition for a spot on the team's bench all spring quietly packed up his belongings. In the afternoon, Carroll all but solidified his place on the roster.
The Nationals cut four players Thursday. They released outfielder Jason Michaels, reassigned infielder Andres Blanco to minor league camp and optioned relievers Ryan Perry and Atahualpa Severino to Triple-A Syracuse. And with each locker that's cleaned out, the Nationals' 25-man roster takes a clearer shape.
Right now, it's a picture that has Carroll's, and most likely Xavier Nady's, name in it.
"It's no secret I like the way Carroll fits," manager Davey Johnson said after the Nationals' 6-3 victory over the Atlanta Braves. "He's a little better fit for what we're trying to do. Nady is a nice fit, too. [Mark] DeRosa is a nice fit."
Maybe that's helped make Carroll a bit more comfortable after weeks spent playing in all but three of the Nationals' games. Michaels' departure has cleared the way for Carroll, and a 1-for-2 day with two walks and a bases-loaded triple with a throwing error that brought him all the way around didn't hurt his chances.
Not to hear him tell it.
"Not one bit," Carroll said. "I'm comfortable because it is what it is. I've been down this road before. Obviously, my hope is to break camp because I'd like to contribute, but until I'm on that plane going north, I'll just continue taking it one day at a time."
This is a difficult time for non-roster players and those on the bubble. As the days dwindle, so do the numbers. The Nationals still have to send four players out before they can set things for Opening Day, and players are perceptive enough to know who's at risk.
"You're definitely not a robot," Carroll said. "You have emotions."
The decision to option Blanco, who can still opt-out of his contract, seemingly assured Steve Lombardozzi of a spot as a utility player. With left fielder Michael Morse likely to start the season on the disabled list, Carroll and Nady are the top candidates to get the remaining outfield/bench positions. Both are versatile right-handed complements to left-handers Rick Ankiel and Roger Bernadina in the outfield, as well as Adam LaRoche at first base.
The Nationals still have to trim nine players in order to get to 25 before Opening Day, but it's likely that five of those players will be moved to the disabled list: Cole Kimball (60-day), Chris Marrero (60-day), Morse (15-day), Drew Storen (15-day) and Chien-Ming Wang (15-day). Right-handers Chad Durbin and Craig Stammen, along with catcher Carlos Maldonado and first baseman Chad Tracy, are the most likely to be cut in the days ahead.
The Nationals play four more games in Florida and one exhibition game in Washington, but Johnson expects to have his roster mostly finalized by the time they depart Viera on Sunday morning and end their Grapefruit League season on the road.
"I plan to basically be fairly close after this homestand," Johnson said. "I want the guys mentally prepared to start the season, wherever they're going to start the season, because all of them are very important to the success of this ballclub."
Notes: The Nationals signed left-handed starter Zach Duke to a minor league deal Thursday. Duke, who is expected to start the season in Triple-A Syracuse's rotation, was released by the Houston Astros earlier this week.
• LaRoche came through his first game since March 15 without any issues with the bone bruise in his left foot. "Let's move on and rock and roll for the season," he said.
• Utility man Mark DeRosa was a late scratch Thursday with some left-calf tightness, but it is not considered serious and he expected to be back in the lineup Friday, playing the outfield for the first time this spring.
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