The Nationals moved closer to shaping their opening day roster this morning by reassigning veteran outfielder Jason Michaels and infielder Andres Blanco to Class AAA Syracuse. The Nationals also optioned reliever Atahualpa Severino to Syracuse.
With Blanco officially out of the picture, the Nationals virtually assured Steve Lombardozzi, a natural middle infielder, a spot on their opening day roster. Lombardozzi’s solid footing came as no surprise following a busy, productive spring that included the Nationals adding “outfielder” to his job description.
Both Michaels and Blanco have out clauses in their minor league contracts, meaning they are free to sign with any other team. Johnson anticipated the injury-riddled Phillies would have interest in Blanco, a slick fielder with more than 200 games of major league experience. Michaels, whom the Nationals placed next to Bryce Harper in their spring clubhouse, has said he is willing consider an assignment to Syracuse.
“I’d like to keep him,” Johnson said. “He doesn’t have anything to prove to me with the bat. It just wasn’t quite a fit. I’d have killed for him last year. But this year, with what we’re trying to accomplish and how I’m trying to get this team together, I’ve got a lot of options.”
With Lombardozzi in good standing and Michael Morse likely to start the season on the disabled list, the Nationals have two remaining spots for three players: Xavier Nady, Chad Tracy and Brett Carroll. Johnson likes Carroll’s athleticism and versatility and has spoken glowingly of Nady. With Adam LaRoche healthy – he’s in the lineup today – Tracy appears to be the likely odd man out.
Johnson summoned Nady, whom the Nationals signed 11 days ago to a minor league contract, to big league camp yesterday. “I made a management decision,” Johnson said. He clearly believes Nady could make the team, even mentioning him as a candidate to start left field opening day should Morse start on the disabled list, which is likely.
Michaels circled the clubhouse this morning, saying goodbyes to teammates who had come to like and respect him. Michaels, who hit .220 this spring, has spent 11 years in the majors.
“Jason was the hardest,” Johnson said. “I like him. He’s a big leaguer. All of them proved they can play up here. But we’re getting close. We’re getting close to finalizing.”
Yesterday, Michaels expressed his hope to make the team, but not clear confidence. “It’s kind of tough,” Michaels said. “You just have to play it out. That’s the only thing you can do.”
The Nationals have 34 players in their major league camp, including five (Cole Kimball, Chien-Ming Wang, Chris Marrero, Drew Storen and Morse) likely to start the season on the disabled list. The most likely candidates to be cut between now and Monday are relievers Craig Stammen, Ryan Perry, Chad Durbin, who has an out clause, and Tracy.
“I plan on being fairly close at the end of this homestand,” Johnson said. “I want guys mentally preparing to start the season where they’re going to start the season. All of them are very important to the success of this ball club. I’m not one to procrastinate in making a decision.”