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Nationals release Chris Heisey to make room for Erick Fedde

Chris Heisey, who has been a right-handed bench bat for two years, was released Sunday. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

Late Saturday night, after the Washington Nationals’ 4-2 loss to the Colorado Rockies, the door to Manager Dusty Baker’s office remained closed for longer than it usually does. When it opened, Chris Heisey walked out, face steady, betraying nothing. He talked to teammates in the usual post-loss hushed voices. He didn’t pack up his locker or anything like that.

But fewer than 12 hours later, the Nationals announced they granted Heisey his release, a move that cleared space on the 40-man roster for Sunday’s Game 1 starter Erick Fedde. They optioned catcher Pedro Severino to Class AAA Syracuse to clear space on the active roster but then selected him as their 26th man for Sunday’s doubleheader. Severino will head to Syracuse after Sunday’s games.

“We were going to put him on the extended DL, and he decided to take his release,” Baker said. “I told him to think about it over night. But yeah, that was very difficult. This is my second team I’ve had Heisey. He’s been a very productive player for me. It was a rough year for him.”

Heisey’s departure was abrupt and unceremonious, one of those decisions that makes good baseball sense but aches somehow. Heisey was on the 10-day disabled list for the second time this season, this time with a strained groin suffered last weekend in Arizona. When he was playing, he struggled, and was hitting .162 with a .485 OPS in 38 games.

The Nationals signed him to a one-year, $1.4 million deal this winter, intending that he serve as their right-handed bat off the bench for the second straight season. But when they acquired versatile Howie Kendrick from the Phillies on Friday night, Heisey became redundant. When Jayson Werth and Michael A. Taylor return from injuries, the Nationals will likely have room for one right-handed bat off their bench, and Kendrick will almost certainly be that hitter.

While Baker does not address the media before Sunday games and therefore has not yet discussed the decision to release Heisey, it must have been difficult for him. Baker managed Heisey in Cincinnati, and Heisey was one of the more pleasant and well-liked members of the Nationals’ clubhouse — quiet but professional, exactly the kind of person teams hunt for on their bench. He endeared himself to Nationals fans with a huge home run in Game 5 of last year’s National League Division Series.

But Kendrick is, quite frankly, a better all-around hitter, and represents an upgrade. Kendrick will start Game 1 of Sunday’s doubleheader, and will likely continue to start until Werth returns from his foot injury. In the meantime, the Nationals seem likely to head to Miami with five active starters (Fedde included), though they will need one for Wednesday’s game. Stephen Strasburg will not yet be eligible to return, but because of Friday’s rainout, no one currently on staff will have enough rest to start then. Jacob Turner pitches Sunday in Syracuse and is therefore probably not an option. A.J. Cole is scheduled to start for the Chiefs between now and Wednesday, but they could skip him.

Either way, the Nationals will probably have to make a roster move before then. As is, they have eight available relievers and five available position players off the bench for two games on Sunday.

Here’s the Game 1 lineup:

Brian Goodwin CF
Wilmer Difo SS
Bryce Harper RF
Ryan Zimmerman 1B
Anthony Rendon 3B
Howie Kendrick LF
Adrian Sanchez SS
Jose Lobaton C
Erick Fedde P

Charlie Blackmon CF
D.J. LeMahieu 2B
Nolan Arenado 3B
Gerardo Parra 1B
Raimel Tapia LF
Carlos Gonzalez RF
Trevor Story SS
Ryan Hanigan C
Kyle Freeland P

More Nationals:

Desmond makes an unconventional return to Nationals Park

Strasburg threw a bullpen session Saturday and ‘came out of it very well’

Newest National Howie Kendrick makes his Washington arrival

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