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And then there were three … Nationals whittle list of bench contenders

Wilmer Difo is one of three players in contention for a bench spot on the Nationals’ Opening Day roster. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

Jose Lobaton, Stephen Drew, Chris Heisey and Adam Lind appear locked into spots on Washington’s bench. Each signed a major league deal before this season, meaning the Nationals demonstrated a greater level of commitment to them than they did to the average nonroster invitee.

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That leaves three position players vying for what appears to be one bench spot: Michael A. Taylor, Wilmer Difo and Clint Robinson. Catcher Jhonatan Solano is still in camp, but Lobaton is entrenched as the backup, so Solano would only make the roster in case of injury.

Robinson is not a natural outfielder and is built in the same mold as Lind. Carrying both would likely mean limiting pinch-running and defensive options late in games. Dusty Baker relies on both of those in-game options heavily.

We’d like to be as athletic as possible,” Baker said Sunday, though he acknowledged that more affects roster decisions than just pure ability.

Carrying Robinson would mean three left-handed hitters on the bench, none of whom is an above-average defensive outfielder. While Baker has said many times that he would like to keep Robinson, the most complete roster probably does not include him.

Difo would be the most versatile fit and has not seemed intimidated — even if highly inexperienced — during his brief trial run in the outfield this spring. More than one scout said he considers Taylor the best defensive outfielder left in camp, but the 26-year-old has struggled in a bench role during his career.

As of Monday morning, all three were still in camp. The Nationals likely want to make a decision soon about Robinson to allow him to find a job elsewhere if he doesn’t pan out with the Nats. Both Taylor and Difo have options remaining, meaning unlike Robinson, the Nationals could send either to the minors and not risk losing him. One of the two, it seems, will head back to Syracuse.

Decision day looms for Joe Nathan and other veterans in the Nationals bullpen

Deadlines loom for decisions on the many veteran relievers still in camp. When it comes to their bench, the Nationals have more time, and the ability to evaluate players up until the last exhibition game Saturday in Annapolis. Robinson made the team after the final exhibition game two years ago. Taylor and Difo will probably get considerable playing time this week as the Nationals continue to evaluate.

Regardless of what they decide, seven days from Monday, the Opening Day roster will be set and the season will begin. In the meantime, Difo, Taylor and Robinson will play, wait and wonder, their futures on hold as the Nationals decide what exactly are their ideal roster needs.