The Nationals rounded out their bullpen this morning by purchasing the contract of left-hander Doug Slaten from Triple-A Syracuse, giving them another left-hander who could free up Sean Burnett to take a broader role in the seventh inning. They made room for Slaten by designating Matt Chico for assignment, though the Nationals are saying it's a technicality and they'll have him back on the 40-man roster within a few days.
Slaten had pitched 17 scoreless innings at Syracuse, and though manager Jim Riggleman said he will fill a number of roles in the bullpen, a key job will be working against lefties. That had become a glaring need in the last few days, as the Nationals were forced to use Burnett in that role with Brian Bruney struggling in high-leverage situations. Tyler Clippard was slated for some lefty-specialist work early in the season, because the right-hander's changeup is so effective. But he's become the Nationals' setup man, which meant the bullpen needed to be reconfigured, especially with Bruney struggling and the Nationals working with six relievers the last few days.
General manager Mike Rizzo signed Slaten when he was the Diamondbacks' scouting director and Arizona drafted Slaten in 2000. He claimed Slaten off waivers last fall, and after two bad seasons in Arizona, Slaten is regaining some of the form that made him a key piece of the Diamondbacks' 2007 NL West championship team.
"My numbers just kind of got worse over the years," Slaten said. "I'm just trying to get back to what made me successful in '06, '07."
Rizzo said the Nationals are at no risk of losing Chico, who pitched 5 1/3 innings in the Nationals' 5-4 win over the Marlins on Saturday; the move is necessitated because he was only in the majors for one day and the Nationals couldn't use the normal procedures they'd use to put a player on optional waivers (commonly known as "optioning" a player). Here's Rizzo's explanation:
"It's a paper move, a paper move only," Rizzo said. "We have no risk of losing him. We're not designating him for release. We're designating him for optional assignment. Because he's a three-plus major-league service guy, and was in Double-A, and was only in the major leagues for one service day, you have to obtain optional waivers on him. Because he wasn't in the major leagues, we couldn't obtain optional waivers on him. We brought him up, we designate him and tomorrow, we'll put him on optional waivers. He'll clear optional waivers, and we'll option him to Double-A. It's a paper move. It's a procedural move. We have no intention of moving the player or getting rid of the player, and we have no risk of losing the player."
Rizzo said the move is "not too common, but in situations like this, it's happened." He said the move was the brainchild of assistant general manager Bryan Minniti.