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Nationals send Bill Bray, Will Ohman, two others to minor league camp

Jonathan Netwon / The Washington Post

The Nationals sent left-handed relievers Bill Bray, Will Ohman and Brandon Mann to minor league camp today, leaving Fernando Abad as the leading candidate to make the Nationals’ opening day roster as the second left-handed reliever in their bullpen.

While the Nationals cut Bray from major league camp, he still could return and compete for a spot on the opening day roster. Bray, who in his six-year major league career has held left-handed hitters to a .218 average, came into camp as the leading candidate to serve as the Nationals’ lefty specialist.

But after he missed almost all of 2012 with a groin injury, Bray has been unable to regain his mechanics, specifically his arm slot. The Nationals, Manager Davey Johnson said, want Bray to work on finding his arm slot in a less stressful environment.

“In a lot of ways, he’s right,” Bray said. “When that bell goes off out there, you compete with what you got. You can’t go out there and worry about the mechanics. … I think anybody who’s watched me, who’s seen me pitch before knows it’s still not quite where it needs to be. The velocity is ticking up for me. My leg and back feels good. All the pieces are there. I just got to put it together.”

Bray had been scheduled to pitch for the past two days, but he didn’t make it into either game. In two innings, Bray allowed two earned runs on five hits and a walk, striking out two.

“We still like his makeup. We like everything about him,” Johnson said. “But we’d like to get him back to a little more to his form. I would love to let him work some things over there out and call him back even during the spring.”

The Nationals signed Ohman, who has pitched in 10 major league seasons, to a minor league deal shortly before pitchers and catchers reported. A pulled hamstring slowed him during camp, and he made his debut today. In the sixth inning of a 7-6 win over the Cardinals, Ohman allowed two walks and two hits. Johnson informed him he had been cut before the game ended.

Mann, who spent the past two seasons in Japan, allowed three earned runs in 1 2/3 innings this spring.

“We just got too many pitchers, and I can’t get them all the work they need,” Johnson said. “It’s just that simple.”

The first nine games of the Nationals’ Grapefruit League schedule, improbably, have put Abad in position to potentially make the 25-man roster out of spring training. He is the only left-handed reliever other than long man Zach Duke in major league camp, and Johnson said “it’s no secret I would prefer to have a little more presence in our bullpen.”

Abad, 27, unceremoniously signed a minor league deal this winter, but he has impressed Nationals officials since the start of camp. In three scoreless innings he has allowed one hit, walked two and struck out four. Abad had a 5.07 ERA with the Houston Astros last season, but he said arm soreness limited his effectiveness.

Today, one scout compared Abad to veteran left-handed reliever Brian Fuentes for his ability to vary speeds. Abad’s fastball hovers in the low-90s while his change-up floats in at 75 mph or slower, an uncommonly large gap in velocity.

Abad may end up competing for the final bullpen spot with Henry Rodriguez, a flame-throwing right-hander who has mixed brilliance and unpredictability in his brief career. Rodriguez, coming off elbow surgery and dealing with tenderness in his right arm, could make his first appearance of the spring this week.

The Nationals also sent Class AAA starter Tanner Roark to minor league camp. The Nationals need to give Roark more innings to stretch him out for the season, and Johnson said he would not have been able to get enough work had he stayed in major league camp.