A name to watch in the race for the final bullpen spot

VIERA, Fla. - The Nationals will host the Mets at Space Coast Stadium tonight, with first pitch coming at 6:05 p.m.

Because the game is at night and at home, the Nationals won't have a workout today until 2 p.m. The players not participating in road night games work out at Space Coast Stadium in the morning, but for home night games, the workouts are pushed back to the afternoon, giving everyone the morning off.

That includes yours truly. Looks like a late-morning nap is in my future.

Tonight's game will be aired on MASN, giving everyone in the broadcast territory a chance to watch Stephen Strasburg on the mound, Denard Span in center and a handful of other big-name Nationals in the starting lineup. Should be fun.

As we look over the Nationals' roster, much is already set, but there appears to be one spot up for grabs in the bullpen.

Rafael Soriano, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, Craig Stammen, Ryan Mattheus and Zach Duke are locks on the 25-man roster, but the race for that final available bullpen spot is wide open.

Bill Bray, Henry Rodriguez, Christian Garcia, Will Ohman and Cole Kimball have been viewed as the guys with the best chance to become that seventh, and final, reliever. But at this point, none of those five have done much to establish themselves as the favorite.

Bray is still working back from a groin injury that threw off his mechanics last season, and he's trying to find the proper arm slot. Rodriguez had elbow surgery late last season and is scheduled to throw a live batting practice session today for the first time this spring after missing time with biceps tightness.

Garcia has been shut down for the time being because of a strain in his right wrist/forearm area. He might not start throwing for another week or so, and once he does, the Nats still would prefer to stretch him out and make him a starter.

Ohman is dealing with a hamstring injury and has yet to appear in a game. Kimball has thrown two scoreless innings and looked good his last time out, but the Nats appear to prefer having him start the season at Triple-A as he continues to work back from major shoulder surgery.

You get the idea. Twenty-four of the 25 spots on the Nationals' opening day roster might already be filled, barring injury, but that 25th is sitting there for the taking.

With that in mind, let me throw one more guy into the mix: Fernando Abad.

Abad might not be a name that many fans recognize. He signed a minor league deal with the Nats this offseason after having thrown 84 2/3 major league innings since his big league debut in 2010. Abad posted a 5.09 ERA in 37 appearances with the Astros last season, striking out 38 and walking 19 in 46 innings.

Those aren't numbers that you'd think would vault Abad into the hunt for that final bullpen spot. But the 27-year-old has a few things working for him: He's left-handed, he's healthy and he's looked fairly good so far this spring.

In two spring appearances, Abad has pitched two scoreless innings, walked two and struck out two. Yesterday, Abad pitched a 1-2-3 fifth inning, striking out catcher Kyle Skipworth and then getting back-to-back groundouts to the right side. It's still very early, and he might be considered a longshot, but of the relievers competing for a roster spot, Abad has been the most impressive so far.

Bray could have a bit of an edge because he's left-handed, he has a good bit of experience at the major league level, and the Nats know that when he's effective, he can be pretty darn good. Rodriguez is out of options, and if he's healthy and the Nats don't put him on their opening day roster, they'd risk losing him to waivers. Garcia was tremendous down the stretch last season, and the Nats might be tempted to turn him back into a reliever. Ohman has pitched parts of 10 seasons in the big leagues. Kimball would give Davey Johnson another hard-throwing righty.

But Abad might be legitimately working his way into the mix, as well. If he can keep putting up clean innings throughout spring and the other bullpen candidates fail to step up, the 27-year-old native of the Dominican Republic might have a legitimate shot at a roster spot.

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