The Nationals' roster for the National League Division Series will include Wilmer Difo on the bench and three lefties in the bullpen. It probably won't include both Clint Robinson and Ben Revere, though, with room only for one of those reserves.
Dusty Baker revealed some aspects of his club's roster for the NLDS against the Dodgers during today's news conference at Nationals Park, but the manager couldn't reveal everything. Baker also acknowledged some decisions have yet to be made, including the identity of the Game 2 starter.
The roster must be announced before 10 a.m. Friday.
Difo's inclusion comes as something of a surprise, given the fact the Nationals already have veteran Stephen Drew backing up all four infield positions. But with Daniel Murphy still less than 100 percent healthy - though Murphy and Baker did today declare him good to go in Game 1 - the Nats wanted to have another middle infielder on the roster.
Difo's ability to hit from the right side of the plate and serve as a pinch-runner also played into his inclusion.
"No. 1, he's a switch-hitter," Baker said. "You know, he has speed. He's very good from the right side, and also he can play all three infield positions. And with Daniel Murphy still coming off an injury, he gives us a possibility at second base late in the game, and (can) run for Daniel Murphy, as well."
With Pedro Severino announced as the Game 1 starter behind the plate, four spots on the Nationals bench appear to be set now: Difo, Drew, Jose Lobaton and Chris Heisey. There is likely only one more available spot, with the decision coming down to Robinson, Revere, Michael A. Taylor or Brian Goodwin.
Robinson has been the club's primary left-handed bat off the bench all season and has been used as a complement to Ryan Zimmerman at first base. But if he gets the spot, the Nationals would have only one backup outfielder in Heisey.
One other possible twist: The Nationals could keep only seven relievers and thus be able to keep both Robinson and one of the backup outfielders.
That, however, would be problematic considering the team plans to carry three lefties in its bullpen. Baker didn't reveal which three southpaws will make it, but the four in consideration are Marc Rzepczynski, Oliver Perez, Sammy Solis and Sean Burnett.
"That was really ... that was tough, as far as the last decision on whom," Baker said. "You know, we haven't released that yet. We do know we're going to go with three left-handers in the 'pen, I can tell you that much now."
Right-handers Mark Melancon, Shawn Kelley and Blake Treinen all are locks to the make the bullpen, and Baker has repeatedly talked up Reynaldo Lopez as though the rookie will be included as a long reliever. If the Nationals only keep seven bullpen arms, there would be no more available slots. If they keep eight, they could choose between Yusmeiro Petit and Matt Belisle.
The full lineup for Game 1 wasn't announced, but with Severino behind the plate it appears to be set. The only other question was Murphy, who hasn't started a game in nearly three weeks due to a strained buttocks muscle but has made significant progress the last few days during workouts.
Murphy participated fully again today, and he extended himself in defensive drills, ranging well to his right on ground balls and turning double plays to test his legs as much as he has since getting hurt. The veteran second baseman and MVP candidate was as confident as he could be about his stats for Game 1.
"Tomorrow's not promised to any of us," he said. "So there's always a chance I'm not in there. But I feel confident right now. I'm going to try everything I can to be in there tomorrow. These guys, my teammates, have really grinded, and it's been fun to watch while I'm out. I want to be in there and be in the fire with them."
Despite the info he did provide today, Baker would not announce his Game 2 starting pitcher. Conventional wisdom says Tanner Roark will get the ball, but the Nationals appear to at least still be considering the possibility of going with Gio Gonzalez or Joe Ross instead and holding Roark for Game 3.
"We just haven't decided yet," Baker said. "I mean, we're just thinking of as many scenarios as we can, and if things go great and if things go poorly. And that's why we haven't decided on it yet. (Pitching coach) Mike Maddux and (general manager Mike) Rizzo and myself, we'll probably get together this afternoon to discuss that."