The Nationals have trimmed their roster by at least two players today, sending both left-handed starting pitcher Ross Detwiler and utility infielder Brian Bixler to minor league camp. Both players will likely the start the season in Class AAA Syracuse.
Tonight’s game in Orlando against the Braves has been canceled. (Bummer for minor league pitcher of the year Tom Milone, who was set to make his first big league appearance. Jordan Zimmerman pitches tomorrow.) With one game remaining in spring training the Nationals are guaranteed to finish with a winning spring record for the first time. They also still have three main decisions to make before Thursday’s opening day: their final relief, infield and outfield spots.
All three, from the sense I have, have clear favorites. This is how I see it, by degree of certainty: Brian Broderick is likely to be chosen over Collin Balester in the bullpen. Alex Cora is likely to be chosen over Alberto Gonzalez as the last infielder, with Gonzalez a potential trade chip. And Laynce Nix will probably be chosen over Roger Bernadina as the last outfielder, since Bernadina has an option remaining.
The toughest call may be Nix over Bernadina. Bernadina is younger (26 to 30) and homegrown, and sometimes he makes you think he could be a star. But he also had a 461-plate appearance audition last year in which he hit .246/.307/.384 with 11 home runs, 35 walks and 93 strikeouts. He can make spectacular plays, but he also makes some curious ones.
Nix would be the safer choice for the bench. Like Bernadina, he can play all three outfield spots, and last year in 182 plate appearances in a reserve role, Nix hit .291/.350/.455. I am not sure what, exactly, Nix’s contract status is as far as an out clause. But I am quite certain Nix would have a major league opportunity, one way or another, should he not be chosen for the 25-man roster.
Like many choices this time of year, that’s probably what this will come down to: The Nationals will lose Nix if they don’t place him on the 25-man roster, but they keep Bernadina either way.