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Nationals’ Opening Day roster nearly set but bullpen intrigue remains

VIERA, Fla. — The Washington Nationals ticked off their final full day in Florida on Wednesday by moving one step closer to finalizing their 2013 roster.

After his team's 11-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves, manager Davey Johnson made two stops in the clubhouse. First he informed Fernando Abad that he would not make the Nationals' 25-man roster, much as Johnson has been impressed by the left-hander this spring. Then he went farther down the row of lockers to tell left-hander J.C. Romero he would be traveling with the team to Washington.

For a roster that was all but set from the outset of camp, the decision on whether Romero or Henry Rodriguez will get the Nationals' final bullpen spot, it seems, will come down to the spring's final day.

"We kind of know who our team is," said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. "We've pretty much known all spring what our team is. It's almost the exact same as last year, so it's kind of an advantage for us. We just use this time to get back to doing what we were doing last year."

Provided they stayed healthy, the Nationals knew their only real question would come in the bullpen. They re-assigned catcher Carlos Maldonado and left-hander Abad to minor league camp Wednesday, and they'll do the same with first baseman-outfielder Micah Owings following Thursday's game.

That leaves only Romero, who could fill what is currently a nonexistent lefty specialist role, battling for a spot. After signing with the Nationals on Friday, Romero said he doesn't know anything more than his travel plans for Thursday.

"I just work here," he quipped Wednesday.

But his mere presence in Washington for the team's exhibition game Friday against the Yankees at Nationals Park would seem to indicate that there is at least a chance he will make the team over Rodriguez, a righty who has struggled with his command and consistency as he continues to work his way back from August elbow surgery.

Rodriguez and Romero pitched in Wednesday's game, a microcosm of the potential decision brewing in the Nationals' front office.

Rodriguez, who is out of options, walked the first batter he faced on four pitches. He loaded the bases with two outs. But he still walked off the mound having pitched a scoreless frame. Romero allowed one hit and walked a batter in his own scoreless inning.

"It feels good being part of the concept of the team," Romero said. "I just hope I can contribute at some point this year."

Johnson said Rodriguez will pitch in Friday's game, but the possibility of him landing on the disabled list seems ever-present. Johnson mentioned last week that Rodriguez was dealing with elbow soreness, perhaps as a result of all the work he's gotten this spring, but he was well enough to pitch Monday and again Wednesday.

If the team does opt to put him on the DL, it could keep him in the organization while putting Romero on the Opening Day roster.

The Nationals will depart for Washington on Thursday night having played 33 exhibition games. They'll have one more to go before the lights go on, and one more decision to make.

Final rotation tune-ups

Stephen Strasburg and Ross Detwiler each got their final tune-ups of the spring Wednesday. Strasburg threw five scoreless innings on five hits with no walks and five strikeouts in a minor league game while Detwiler pitched against the Braves and went 51/3 innings, allowing two runs on eight hits with a walk and two strikeouts.

Strasburg will start Opening Day while Detwiler will wait nine days before he gets his first start of the season April 6 in Cincinnati.

Windy day brings power display

On a windy day in Viera, the Nationals and Braves combined to hit eight home runs Wednesday with Wilson Ramos clubbing his first two since knee surgery and Zimmerman hitting three.

Around the horn

Closer Rafael Soriano looked "a little rusty" in his first outing since Saturday, when he threw in a minor league game, Johnson said. Soriano allowed a hit and a walk with one strikeout. He will pitch Thursday for his only back-to-back games of the spring. ... Outfielder Jayson Werth took a pitch off his elbow in what could have been a scary scene, but he was OK and joked later that it hit his "not-so-funny bone." ... Catcher Kurt Suzuki took a foul ball of his knee while catching Strasburg's minor league game. He left the game but expects to play Thursday.

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