In assembling the final spots for their National League Division Series roster, the Nationals had two priorities in mind: speed and defense on their bench, and a bunch of lefties in their bullpen.
Manager Dusty Baker explained why, after several days of deliberations, the club’s decision-makers settled on rookies Brian Goodwin and Victor Robles as backup outfielders, and Oliver Pérez, Sammy Solís and Enny Romero as left-handed members of their seven-man bullpen.
The Nationals became convinced over the last few days that Goodwin’s groin strain had healed, and the work the 26-year-old got last week in the instructional league in West Palm Beach, Fla., and in D.C. this week was enough to merit his inclusion on the roster.
The tougher call was Robles, the 20-year-old prospect with only 13 games of big league experience. In the end, the Nationals saw the skills and composure they were looking for out of the kid. And they feel he can make a difference for them in specific roles.
“We were weighing the need for speed, and also the need for defense,” Baker said. “And especially if I have to run for (catcher Matt) Wieters or run for (backup catcher Jose) Lobaton. And we were kind of left-handed strong on the bench.”
When it came to finalizing their relief corps, the Nationals bypassed veteran right-hander Joe Blanton (who had a 1.98 ERA over his last 16 appearances) or a traditional long man in favor of more lefties. Closer Sean Doolittle and Pérez were locks regardless, but Solís and Romero were the final additions as the coaching staff tried to envision potential matchups with the Cubs’ left-handed bats late in games.
“We know they have quite a few lefties, and our lefties are pretty good at getting righties out,” Baker said. “And we kept the best bullpen that we thought ... for this series. It was a tough decision. It’s always tough to leave guys off, especially guys that have helped you get here all year.”
“I think they need to be here,” Baker said, “just to get the feeling and the electricity that there’s going to be when he’s here next year, the year after, the year after. Jack and Blanton, I think they can stay sharp, and they have earned the right as a veteran.”
Coach suspended: Shortly before first pitch tonight, the Nationals announced that assistant hitting coach Jacque Jones was suspended with pay, pending an internal investigation pursuant to a legal matter. Jones, who has been on Baker’s staff the last two seasons, was not in the dugout or on the field during pregame ceremonies.
Troy Gingrich, the organization’s minor league hitting coordinator, will assume Jones’ duties on an interim basis.
“As this is an ongoing legal matter, the Washington Nationals will have no further comment,” the club said in a statement.