VIERA, Fla. - Nationals manager JIm Riggleman met with reporters a few minutes ago to explain the thinking behind some of the team's 12 cuts from major league camp today. Essentially, one theme emerged: The Nationals already have a pretty good idea of who's going to be on their opening day roster, and they're ready to start trimming away players who won't be in that mix.
The players who were cut were mostly minor league free agents and non-roster invitees who were beginning to take at-bats and innings away from the players who are likely to make the team. And the two pitchers on the 40-man roster sent to minor league camp - Adam Carr and Garrett Mock - didn't have a realistic chance of going north, either. Carr had been impressive, but wasn't going to cut through a crowded bullpen field this early in the year, while Mock simply didn't perform well enough to make the rotation.
"There's going to be a lot of good performances by pitchers, a lot of good performances by position players, that we have to make that call on," Riggleman said.
The Nationals have flirted with the idea of making Mock a permanent reliever in the past, using him in 36 relief appearances in 2008-09. Riggleman said he still projects as a starter, for the time being. But there's no question Mock is on borrowed time; he'll be 28 in April, is on his final minor league option and has yet to turn his impressive stuff into consistent success.
"He's shown so many flashes," Riggleman said. "I can remember talking to an opposing manager in '09 after he pitched in a ballgame. It was a very good ballclub, and the manager was talking the next day - 'Our guys are raving about Garrett Mock's stuff.' They didn't know anything about him, and they're raving about him. And then maybe he takes a step backwards, and last year the (neck) injury really got him. He needs to go out and pitch competitively in a tough league."
There are still 46 players in the Nationals' camp, and with their starting pitchers taking up so many innings - they don't have any work slated for relievers the next two days - they're going to have to send more pitchers to work in intrasquad games. Doug Slaten and Todd Coffey threw over there today, and Riggleman said the Nationals will have to move pitchers there more often.
One player who didn't get cut, of course, was Bryce Harper; the Nationals decided to keep the 18-year-old outfielder in camp for now, and he'll continue to get snippets of playing time, though Riggleman said it's still unlikely last year's No. 1 pick will start a game.
It's possible Harper could head out sometime next week, after playing in two games televised on MASN (tonight and tomorrow) and helping the Nationals through a stretch of four road games in five days starting Sunday. Riggleman said the Nationals wouldn't necessarily have to wait for the next big round of cuts to move Harper to the minors.
"It may not be that, when that time comes, it's with a group of others," Riggleman said. "It may be that we keep him around a few days, or keep him through the next cut where we do six more or something. I don't know yet."