The Nationals moved closer to finalizing the complexion of their bullpen today as Manager Davey Johnson informed left-hander Fernando Abad he will be sent to the minors and told lefty J.C. Romero he will travel with the Nationals to Washington for the exhibition Friday at Nationals Park.
Romero had not been told anything beyond his travel plans – “I just work here,” he said. But Romero’s presence in D.C. may well mean the Nationals will choose him for their final bullpen spot less than a week after signing him to a minor league contract.
If the Nationals choose Romero, and therefore add a second left-hander to their bullpen, they would likely place Henry Rodriguez, who underwent elbow surgery last summer to remove a bone chip, on the disabled list to begin the season.
Romero’s contract, according to a person familiar with the situation, will guarantee him $850,000 if he makes the majors and could be worth up to $1.5 million with performance bonuses. If the Nationals send him to the minors, Romero can opt out of his contract on June 1 if the Nationals have not promoted him to the majors.
Romero, 36, caught the Nationals’ attention while pitching for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic. Last season, he posted a 9.00 ERA in only 12 major league innings with the Orioles and Indians.
Earlier this week, one rival evaluator who have watched both Romero and Rodriguez pitch predicted the Nationals would place Rodriguez and the DL and place Romero on the 25-man roster.
Both Rodriguez and Romero pitched today, and their performances underscored their potential opening day destinations. Rodriguez began his inning with a four-pitch walk and eventually loaded with a single and another walk before escaping with a zero. Romero, making his second appearance with the Nationals, allowed a lead-off walk but then got a double play and a pop up.
“It feels good, getting to know your teammates and just being part of the concept of a team,” Romero said. “Sometimes it’s hard to be able to just come in the middle of the season and fit in. Being able to be here these few days has helped me tremendously. I just hope I can contribute at one point this year.”
Romero has thrown two scoreless innings and, after he lost 20 pounds this offseason, his fastball has hovered around 90 miles per hour. Rodriguez has struggled to find his control this spring, the same problem that has held him back for much of his career. He has walked 10 batters in 8 2/3 innings, which offsets the fact he’s only allowed three hits.
Johnson said he plans for Rodriguez to throw a side session and pitch in the Nationals’ game against the Yankees on Friday.
Abad, who pitched last season for the Astros, does not have an opt-out in his minor league contract. Johnson told him he pitched well enough to make the team, but that the Nationals simply do not have a spot for him.
The Nationals also reassigned catcher Carlos Maldonado to minor league camp, leaving their major league camp roster at 28 players. The Nationals will reassign Micah Owings and Carlos Rivero to get down to 26. And then they have only one more decision to make.
James Wagner contributed to this report.