WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The Washington Nationals have to set an active 25-man roster by the middle of next week, and they got closer after another round of spring training cuts Saturday afternoon.
The moves brought the Nationals down to 31 players before catcher Pedro Severino was claimed off waivers by the Baltimore Orioles to make it 30. Washington optioned starter Joe Ross to Class AAA Fresno and catcher Spencer Kieboom and starter Erick Fedde to Class AA Harrisburg. The team also reassigned top prospect Carter Kieboom, right-handed pitcher Henderson Alvarez III, right-handed reliever Aaron Barrett, right-handed reliever Scott Copeland and left-handed reliever Vidal Nuño III to minor league camp. Since no one from that last group is on the 40-man roster, each soon will be placed on a minor league team for the beginning of the season..
According to a person with knowledge of the Nationals’ plans, Nuño was told he will start the season in Fresno if he remains with the organization. He has two opt-out clauses in his minor league contract and now has six days to decide whether he will stay with Washington or become a free agent. The Nationals reassigning Nuño indicates that they expect Tony Sipp, signed on March 14, to be ready for Opening Day.
The Nationals have a few more decisions to sift through before they open the season against the New York Mets on Thursday. Koda Glover will start the season on the injured list with a forearm strain. There is a chance utility man Howie Kendrick (mild left hamstring strain) and outfielder Michael A. Taylor (left knee and left hip sprains) will do the same, though both would probably be short stints as opposed to Glover’s.
The fringe players heading to Washington are right-handed reliever Austen Williams, infielder Jake Noll, infielder Adrian Sanchez and outfielder Andrew Stevenson. If Kendrick and Taylor aren’t healthy by Thursday, it’s likely that Stevenson replaces Taylor and Sanchez holds Kendrick’s spot. Noll, a 24-year-old nonroster invitee, has surprised the team throughout camp but is not on the 40-man roster. The Nationals do, however, have an open spot following Severino’s departure and have not yet made a corresponding move.
Williams, 26, still has a chance to make the bullpen with his mid-90s fastball and sharp slider. He has quietly retired 22 of the 24 hitters he has faced this spring while recording a 0.00 ERA, and is battling Wander Suero for the last spot alongside Sean Doolittle, Trevor Rosenthal, Kyle Barraclough, Matt Grace, Justin Miller and Sipp. There is also the possibility of the Nationals carrying an extra reliever (for a total of eight) and a four-man bench to start the year.
“I liked Austen when he came up last year as well,” Nationals Manager Dave Martinez said Saturday. “He honed in on his mechanics and consistency, just throwing strikes, which is a big part of what we wanted him to do, and he’s had an unbelievable spring. And I really believe that he’s only going to get better.”
The Nationals had considered using Ross out of the bullpen but instead decided to stretch him out as a starter in Fresno. Ross, 25, was once a proven back-of-the-rotation arm but missed most of last season while recovering from Tommy John surgery. Now he has to prove himself again and rework his way into Washington’s future. The Nationals will also stretch out Alvarez, whom they signed this winter on a minor league contract.
The Nationals sent Fedde and Kieboom to Harrisburg so they can keep their immediate depth nearby. Fedde probably will be the first starter called up if there is an injury in the rotation, and the Nationals don’t want him across the country in Fresno. Kieboom, who served as the backup catcher for parts of last season, will be needed if there are any issues behind the plate. The distance from Washington to Fresno was always going to present challenges. This will be the first season since the Class AAA affiliate moved from Syracuse to the West Coast.
“We explained this to them. This is just a move we need to make being that Fresno is so far,” Martinez said. “If we need a catcher, [Kieboom] is fairly close. And if we need another pitcher, Fedde is fairly close, as well.”
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