The Nationals remain content with keeping only one left-handed reliever in their bullpen, but they bolstered their depth in the area by signing veteran J.C. Romero to a minor league contract. Romero, who caught the Nationals’ eye with his performance for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic, will join the Nationals tomorrow when they face the Mets in Port St. Lucie.
The Nationals informed Romero he will be sent to Class AAA Syracuse at the outset of the regular season, General Manager Mike Rizzo said. Rather than challenge for a spot in the bullpen, he will provide “insurance” behind the Nationals’ established bullpen, Manager Davey Johnson said.
“We’re going to give J.C. and opportunity to see if he can help us,” Rizzo said. “He’s a veteran pitcher. He threw well in the WBC. We’ll see if he can help us at the major league level sometime.”
Romero, 36, had a brief tenure with the Nationals midway through the 2011 season, when he pitched for Class AAA Syracuse for a month before opting out of his contract. The Nationals are one of seven organizations Romero has pitched for over the past two years. Romero pitched 12 major league innings last and allowed 21 hits, four of them home runs.
The Nationals view Romero in the same way they saw Michael Gonzalez when they signed him last May. The Nationals acquired Gonzalez in early May, and he became a key cog in their bullpen, throwing 35 2/3 innings with a 3.03 ERA.
The Nationals lost Sean Burnett, Tom Gorzelanny and Gonzalez in free agency, leaving them with only long reliever Zach Duke and several non-roster invitees as left-handed options in the bullpen.
“We’re trying to replenish that supply in house,” Johnson said.
Still, the Nationals, Rizzo said, were not “scouring for every left-handed reliever we could find” during spring training. They simply saw a low-risk option in Romero who could bring a high reward down the road – in his career, Romero has held left-handed hitters to a .220 batting average. But they do not view a left-hander in the bullpen as an urgent necessity.
“We’re comfortable with the bullpen where we’re at right now,” Rizzo said.
Bill Bray could also be an option for the future. He remains in minor league camp, trying to fix a mechanical issue with his delivery. He cannot opt-out of his contract until June, and so the Nationals will have a chance to monitor his progress. Bray appeared to be a strong candidate to make the roster until he could not recapture his arm slot.
“He’s getting better,” Rizzo said. “He’s getting closer. He’s making strides.”