Washington Nationals name Mock fifth starter, nearly set roster for opening day

By Zach Berman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Washington Nationals finalized their opening day roster on Saturday by naming right-handed pitcher Garrett Mock as the fifth starting pitcher and solidifying the makeup of their bench and bullpen.

Mock beat out Scott Olsen, who had gained momentum after an impressive pair of starts to close spring training. Olsen was optioned to Class AAA Syracuse along with outfielder Roger Bernadina. Infielder Eric Bruntlett and right-handed Mike MacDougal were reassigned to minor league camp.

The Nationals' bench will include infielder Cristian Guzmán (though he should receive consistent at-bats), catcher Wil Nieves, infielder Alberto González, outfielder Willy Tavares and utility player Mike Morse.

They will enter the season with eight relievers, a group that includes lefties Sean Burnett and Jesse English, and right-handed relievers Miguel Batista, Jason Bergmann, Brian Bruney, Matt Capps, Tyler Clippard and Tyler Walker. The Nationals still need to make room on the 40-man roster for Batista and Tavares by Sunday afternoon.

It was the decision to enter the season with Mock in the rotation over Olsen that gained the most attention before Saturday's 6-1 loss to the Boston Red Sox at Nationals Park in the team's final exhibition game before Monday's season opener against the Philadelphia Phillies.

"It was a very tough decision," Manager Jim Riggleman said. "You never want to be so flip about it to say you can flip a coin as to which one you took. But really, it wavered day to day as to which guy we were going to take. Both of them have options, so we can send them to the minor leagues. Whichever one we took, we knew it could be an ever-changing thing. Not just with them, but with anybody else in the rotation, pretty much with the exception of [Jason] Marquis and [John] Lannan."

Mock, 26, was 0-4 with a 5.79 ERA in five spring training starts. He struck out 12 in 18 innings, and will have another opportunity to prove his value to Nationals management after concluding the 2009 season in the starting rotation. Despite his unconvincing spring, Riggleman said the Nationals are still "excited about what he can do for us."

Mock learned of his fate upon arriving at Nationals Park around 11 a.m. Saturday. He was in a similar situation last season, going into the final days of spring training without knowing where he would open the season.

"Everybody goes into spring training expecting to make the team," Mock said. "I expected to make the team, although I knew it was out of my control based off the last couple outings and how that was playing out."

Olsen, 26, made a convincing push for a starting spot after two impressive starts to close the spring, including striking out seven Red Sox batters in five innings while allowing only one run on Friday. Olsen has been recovering from shoulder surgery that halted his 2009 season in July. Riggleman said the consensus among Washington's decision-makers was that Olsen has progressed but is not 100 percent.

Olsen declined comment after the game.

"He didn't say anything, but I know he was very disappointed," Riggleman said when asked how Olsen took the news. "He's a very confident young man. I'm sure he feels we made the wrong decision, which I think he should feel that way. That's how we want him to feel. If it went the other way, Mock would be feeling the same way. It was going to be a tough conversation no matter who we had it with, but certainly Scott is a guy that feels he earned the right to be on the ballclub. Without saying that, I'm sure he feels that way."

Riggleman said early in the spring that Olsen would have a spot on the roster if he was healthy and that Mock would be the team's No. 3 starter, but the strong pitching of Craig Stammen left Mock and Olsen vying for the job after both struggled early in the spring. Olsen improved throughout the spring, but Riggleman said the Nationals needed to judge "the overall body of work" and not just his most recent outing.

Although Mock is the final starter to be named, he will be the fourth starter to pitch. Mock will start on April 9 against the New York Mets. Liván Hernández, who is currently a non-roster invitee but is in the starting rotation, will not join the club to make a start until April 11. Until then, the Nationals will keep the eight-reliever bullpen.

They considered adding an extra hitter instead of an extra reliever to the opening roster, but this week's series against the Phillies led Riggleman to go with an extra left-handed reliever. Also, Guzmán's ability to hit from both sides of the plate and play multiple positions allows for flexibility off the bench.

The bullpen, like the rotation, could remain fluid throughout the season. And though Mock and Olsen competed for a spot, the rotation later this season could include names that were not even in discussion on Saturday, such as Chien-Ming Wang, Ross Detwiler, J.D. Martin -- and, of course, Stephen Strasburg.

"We feel like we're putting some people down in the system now that these decisions in the big leagues are getting to be tougher," Riggleman said. "It's got a chance to pay dividends for us, but on the day you're doing it -- when you're sending someone out -- it's not a happy day by any means."

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