VIERA, Fla. - The Nationals made three cuts this morning, reassigning outfielder Jason Michaels and infielder Andres Blanco to minor league camp and optioning left-handed pitcher Atahualpa Severino to Triple-A Syracuse.
Michaels and Blanco both have opt-outs in their contracts, meaning that they can decline the demotion to Triple-A and can look around for a big league job elsewhere.
The cuts leave the Nats with 34 players on their major league roster.
“Jason was the hardest,” manager Davey Johnson said. “I like him. Big leaguer. All of them have proven they can play up here, all of them have done a good job up here, but we’re getting close. We’re getting close to the team finalizing.”
The Nats will wait and see what Michaels and Blanco choose to do from here.
Michaels, who hit .220 with one home run and seven RBI in 41 spring at-bats, talked with Nats general manager Mike Rizzo and appears willing to start the season at Triple-A.
“For him, hopefully he’ll get a big league job, but if not, I’d hope that he would stay with a great organization in the Nationals,” Johnson said. “I’d like to keep him. It just wasn’t quite a fit. ... I like him a lot, I like his makeup and what he brings to the ball club, but it just wasn’t quite there for him.”
Johnson mentioned that Blanco, who hit just .063 with two hits in 32 at-bats, might be able to catch on with a team in need of infield help. The Nats’ skipper specifically singled out the Phillies as a team that might be interested in the slick-fielding middle infielder.
Blanco being let go essentially guarantees that Steve Lombardozzi will make the Nationals as a reserve infielder, although Johnson is still not yet willing to declare the 23-year-old a lock for the opening day roster.
Assuming the Nats place Michael Morse on the DL to start the season, outfielders Brett Carroll and Xavier Nady and first baseman Chad Tracy will be competing for the last two roster spots.
Carroll appears to have the inside track for one of the spots, leaving Nady (who adds depth at the corner outfield spots and first base) and Tracy (a left-handed hitter that could bring insurance if Adam LaRoche isn’t healthy) battling for what’s likely the last available roster position.
Officially, the Nats have nine cuts left to make (10 if they keep Nady, who is not on the big league roster), but a number of those are clear-cut.
Pitchers Chien-Ming Wang, Drew Storen and Cole Kimball will almost certainly start the season on the DL, as will Morse and first baseman Chris Marrero.
That leaves the Nats needing to let go either four or five more players to get to the 25-man roster limit. Right-handed pitchers Ryan Perry, Chad Durbin and Craig Stammen are likely to be boxed out by Ryan Mattheus for the final spot in the ‘pen, and catcher Maldonado will not make the team, leaving Nady and Tracy competing for that 25th spot.