Nats sign MacDougal to minor-league deal

The Nationals have signed Mike MacDougal, their 2009 closer who was recently cut by the Florida Marlins, to a minor-league deal with an invitation to spring training. MacDougal, who saved 20 games in 21 opportunities last year, will be in camp on Thursday.

MacDougal was arbitration-eligible after last season and due for a sizable raise, so the Nationals non-tendered him in December. He was also coming off hip surgery, so the Nationals signed Matt Capps to replace him, rather than re-signing MacDougal at a discount.

He landed with the Marlins, who have three relievers they hope to keep -- Renyel Pinto, Dan Meyer and Hayden Penn -- that are all out of options. MacDougal didn’t help his case with a 9.64 ERA in five appearances this spring, but he’ll get another shot in Washington.

Manager Jim Riggleman hedged on whether MacDougal would have a shot to make the team -- “With how much time we have left, and how many games we’ll get him in to get a good read, I’m not sure,” he said -- but added MacDougal’s performance last year would “certainly give him the benefit of the doubt.”

The Nationals also didn’t characterize the move as a response to the struggles of their bullpen this spring, where Capps has a 9.00 ERA in seven appearances and Tyler Walker has an 18.00 ERA in six games. The reality is, though, they now have another option to close games they trust. Riggleman has said all spring Capps would get the call “if we had a game tomorrow,” but has hinted he could mix and match closers between Capps, Brian Bruney and Sean Burnett.

MacDougal might not make the club out of spring training, but there’s a chance his name could be added to that list eventually. General manager Mike Rizzo said MacDougal has an out clause in his contract where he can request his release if he’s in the minors at a certain date. He would not say how long the clause was, other than to say it was longer than the three-week clause the Nationals put in MacDougal’s minor-league contract last year.

Rizzo said “something extraordinary” would have to happen for MacDougal to break with the big-league club. But when MacDougal pitched against the Nationals on Sunday, he showed them enough of the closer they saw last year to convince them he was worth another look.

“Mike (Rizzo) is great about always seeing if we can get better. He’s looking at all the names. There were some other names that got released yesterday, put through waivers, whatever,” Riggleman said. “Without having the prior relationship with them and seeing what they could do, it didn’t make as much sense for us as (MacDougal) did. We probably wouldn’t have done this if it wasn’t Mike (MacDougal).”

Left-hander Scott Schoeneweis was the other prominent reliever who was released yesterday, having been cut by the Milwaukee Brewers.