VIERA, Fla. - The Nationals made a host of roster moves following today’s 7-3 win over the Mets, a couple of which are a bit surprising.
Manager Matt Williams also informed right-hander Aaron Barrett, the closer at Double-A Harrisburg last season, that he’s made the Nats’ opening day bullpen.
“None of them were easy,” Williams said of the cuts, “but they’re moves that we had to make, and I wanted to let them know today, certainly, so they can make plans.”
The release of Carroll and optioning of Moore are a bit surprising coming in tandem. This leaves speedy utility man Jeff Kobernus and catcher Sandy Leon as the two players left on the roster still battling for the Nats’ final bench spot.
“We’ve got options,” Williams said. “We’ve considered a three-catcher combination, and certainly Kobe is an option for us, as well. That may come down to D.C. We’re going to continue to talk about it.”
Asked if the Nats are also considering adding a position player from outside the organization to supplement their bench, Williams responded, “I don’t have any information on that.”
Williams said that the thinking behind possibly going with three catchers on the opening day roster is that it would allow him to use Wilson Ramos as a pinch-hitter in games in which the No. 1 backstop doesn’t start.
“He’s one of our best RBI guys,” Williams said. “He certainly knows how to drive a run in. And if that’s the way we go, then it frees us up to go ahead and do that earlier in a game then we’d normally do it. So that’s a consideration that we’re looking at.”
Managers with just two catchers on the roster are typically reluctant to use the guy sitting on the bench that day as a pinch-hitter because it leaves them susceptible to injury.
Williams said that of all the cuts that he’s had to handle, Carroll’s was “the toughest one I’ve had so far.” The Nats skipper loved Carroll’s approach to the game and the way he put the team above himself, but cited a lack of playing time as a reason for opting not to keep the 40-year-old on the roster.
“I think there’s more in the tank for him,” said Williams, who noted that the Nats would like to have Carroll back if he’s willing to accept an assignment to Triple-A.
That said, there are a couple of big league teams in need of infield help, including the rival Phillies, and so Williams thinks that Carroll might be able to find a major league job somewhere. That’s part of the reason why the Nats released Carroll now - so that he can try and find a spot with another squad.
“There’s need out there for Jamey, and we didn’t want to hang him up if there wasn’t going to be an opportunity with us, let him go explore,” Williams said. “I think there is opportunity for him.”
Carroll’s release locks up a roster spot for Danny Espinosa, likely as a utility infielder, although he’s still officially in the mix for the starting second base job, according to Williams.
“Danny’s played really well,” Williams said. “It’s not necessarily a competition between Jamey and Danny, but I didn’t see Jamey staying with us, and I didn’t want to hold him up. So is it a vote of confidence for Danny? Sure.”
Williams said that an expected lack of playing time was also a big part of the reason why the Nats optioned Moore, who has dominated Triple-A the last couple of years, but has at times struggled at the big league level when coming off the bench.
“When he gets consistent at-bats, he plays well,” Williams said.
With Mattheus, the right-hander was set back this spring by a chest injury, and today was just his third Grapefruit League appearance. The Nats want to let the righty get more innings in the minors, and might look to him down the road.
“He let me know he’ll be ready when we call on him,” Williams said.
Barrett, 26, entered camp as a real longshot to break camp with the team, but he’ll get his first taste of big league action when this season begins. The righty had a tremendous spring, throwing 9 2/3 scoreless innings, showing a hard fastball that he can command in the mid-90s.
“We contemplated Xavier and three lefties in our ‘pen, potentially, but when it came down to it, Aaron has showed us that he’s able to compete at this level,” Williams said. “He’s attacked guys and he’ll be a valuable piece to our bullpen and get in a lot of games for us.”
With Barrett taking the final spot in the bullpen, there are now two spots on the 25-man roster still up for grabs as long as Doug Fister is healthy and is able to make his first regular season start: the final bench spot and the final slot in the rotation.
If Fister is healthy and can start April 6, as the Nats hope, Williams said that either Roark or Jordan - whoever loses that battle for the final starting spot - will start the season at Triple-A Syracuse.