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Matt Adams among Nationals’ latest roster cuts as Opening Day nears

A lack of versatility will keep Matt Adams, a key part of the Nationals' 2019 World Series team, from heading north with the team this spring. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)
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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The scene in the Washington Nationals’ clubhouse Saturday was a familiar one at this stage of spring training. Around 2:30 p.m., Wily Peralta, Alex Colomé, Andres Machado and Paolo Espino stood near their lockers exchanging a few words and a few hugs. Machado walked over to other teammates to say goodbye. Matt Adams walked in from outside with a phone in his hand.

The Nationals reassigned Colomé, Machado and Peralta to minor league camp Saturday; Espino, already on the 40-man roster, was optioned to Class AAA Rochester. Infielder Jeter Downs also was optioned to Rochester, and Manager Dave Martinez informed Adams, a 34-year-old veteran of 10 seasons, that he won’t make the team.

“Today’s a tough day for me, for players, because you build relationships with these guys,” Martinez said. “But, like I always tell them, it’s never the end. As we know, before this is all over, there’s going to be a lot of moves, so just keep going down there and playing hard.”

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After the Nationals lost to Houston on Saturday night, 6-1, Martinez said he wasn’t sure whether Adams will accept his assignment to Rochester or elect to become a free agent with hopes of signing with another team.

The Nationals have to trim their roster as they prepare to leave Florida following their Grapefruit League finale Sunday. And though the roster is still taking shape — they must be down to 26 players by Opening Day — Martinez acknowledged that there could be more shuffling in the coming days if players become available following roster cuts across the majors.

Saturday’s moves leave utility player Michael Chavis as the lone healthy player in camp who could fill the team’s fourth bench slot. Catcher Israel Pineda is still in major league camp but is dealing with a finger injury that has kept him from swinging a bat.

Adams hit 20 homers in 310 at-bats as part of the Nationals’ 2019 championship team and had the most familiarity with the organization. But he has played in just 38 major league games since 2019. Last year, he played with the Kansas City Monarchs, an independent league team. Adams was 13 for 39 in spring training, but Martinez said he lacked the versatility he was looking for in a bench player.

Adams and Chavis, 27, primarily play first base, but Chavis — a first-round pick by the Boston Red Sox in 2014 — has also filled in at second (96 games), third (18) and in the outfield (13) during his career.

“I’ve talked about this 26th man who can do a lot of different things — he fits the bill,” Martinez said of Chavis on Friday. “I like the way he plays all positions. . . . It doesn’t matter to him what we asked him to do; he’s ready to do anything we asked.”

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Chavis, on the third team of his career, hit 14 homers and drove in 49 runs last season with Pittsburgh before opting for free agency after the season. For his career, he has hit .237 with 40 home runs and 137 RBI. Chavis is known to be aggressive early in counts; he swung at 46.8 percent of first pitches a year ago compared with the league average of 29.5. This camp, he said he’s focused on making better swing decisions.

“Analyzed my game last year, and it was just something that I thought would be a major point for me where I can make some strides,” Chavis said.

If he does earn the fourth spot, he would join a bench that includes backup catcher Riley Adams, infielder Ildemaro Vargas and outfielder Alex Call, who beat out Stone Garrett and Derek Hill for the fourth outfielder spot following a strong camp.

The Nationals’ starting rotation seemed set heading into camp; Cade Cavalli’s Tommy John surgery complicated the equation, but Chad Kuhl seems to have the inside track to be the fifth starter, joining Patrick Corbin, Josiah Gray, MacKenzie Gore and Trevor Williams.

The remaining roster decisions will come down to the bullpen. With Sean Doolittle and Victor Arano probably starting the season on the injured list, the team has seven healthy right-handed relievers remaining: Kyle Finnegan, Hunter Harvey, Carl Edwards Jr., Erasmo Ramirez and Mason Thompson from last year’s bullpen staff along with Hobie Harris, who signed a minor league deal this offseason, and Thad Ward. Ward, a Rule 5 draft pick, must remain on the roster for the entirety of the season or be offered back to the team he was selected from (the Red Sox). That makes Ward and Harris, who has had a strong camp, the most likely candidates to stick.

That leaves Anthony Banda as the only left-handed arm in camp other than Doolittle. Martinez said earlier this spring that he hoped to have two left-handed arms in his bullpen but had limited options with Banda, Jose Ferrer and Matt Cronin battling late in camp for that spot. But Banda, 29, has much more experience than Cronin or Ferrer, having played with four teams over the past two seasons.

Banda struggled early in camp but hasn’t allowed a run in five of his past six outings. He has had issues repeating his mechanics and getting behind in counts. Banda said he has struggled with not planting his foot before throwing, leading to his pitches being well off the plate. But he feels he has done a better job in camp of improving his footing so he can be in line with the plate. With less than a week before Opening Day, he could be in the bullpen Thursday at Nationals Park against the Atlanta Braves.

“It’s a good feeling, but there’s always a chance it could go either direction,” Banda said. “I don’t try to really put too much attention to it, although it’s really hard not to. … Trying to put together a really good ending to camp, and whatever happens after that happens.”