Updated, 12:45 p.m.
The Nationals held their third round of cuts this spring, sending eight players down to the minor leagues. Starters Ryan Perry and Yunesky Maya, reliever Erik Davis, first baseman Chris Marrero, catcher Jhonatan Solano and outfielder Corey Brown were reassigned to Class AAA Syracuse. Starter Ross Ohlendorf and infielder Zach Walters were sent to minor league camp, both likely to start in Syracuse, too.
The Nationals believe Ohlendorf, Maya and Perry will serve as protection against their major league rotation in the event of injuries. The Nationals starting rotation enjoyed a rare season of good health, with none of the starting five missing a start last season because of injury, shutdowns excluded. Perry, who converted from a reliever to starter last season, needs to improve command; and Ohlendorf and Maya will serve as starters this season.
“I just tell them where it is and in the scheme of things,” Nationals Manager Davey Johnson said. “I’m not big on romance or b.s. It’s not a secret that one of the areas we lack a little depth is in starting pitching. I hope I impressed on [Ohlendorf, Perry and Maya] today that they are prime candidates, each and every one of them, and that they need to be in a good frame of mind and be ready. Last year was a very good year in that we had some injuries to the position players but the pitching staff was pretty much injury free. It’s doesn’t always happen that way.”
Ohlendorf has an opt-out clause in his minor league contract but not until June. Chris Young, signed to a minor league deal last month to also serve as starting rotation depth, can opt-out of his deal on March 24.
Johnson highlighted Brown, Marrero and Walters are major league-quality talents. Because of the logjam of players in the majors, Johnson acknowledged there is no space for any of those three on the major league roster now. He also didn’t want to fiddle too much with the composition of a reigning division champion. Johnson has been particularly impressed with Walters this spring, saying the infielder reminds him of a young Ian Desmond but who needs the time in the minor leagues for polishing. Walters, an athletic switch hitter with a strong arm, hit .297 in 21 spring games.
Davis, 26, also flew under the radar this spring training but the Nationals were pleased with his performance. The right-handed reliever threw eight innings and allowed only one run, striking out eight. He will serve as a late-inning reliever in Syracuse, even closing games. It shouldn’t be a surprise if the Nationals relievers sustain any injuries and Davis gets a call-up later in the season.
“He has big league stuff,” Johnson said. “It’s the command of both those pitches [fastball and offspeed] and a little more experience. It’s all about controlling your emotions and staying within yourself and reading hitters and reading situations and reading accordingly, and that comes from experience. But he has been impressive.”