WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – The Nationals made six more cuts this afternoon, bringing the number of remaining healthy players in camp down to the requisite 26 but leaving open the possibility of acquiring someone from outside the organization to fill out their bench or bullpen before the Opening Day roster is officially set.
Right-hander Paolo Espino and infielder Jeter Downs were optioned to Triple-A Rochester, while relievers Alex Colomé, Andrés Machado and Wily Peralta were reassigned to minor league camp.
First baseman Matt Adams, meanwhile, was informed he won’t be making the club but is still deciding whether he will accept an invitation from manager Davey Martinez to come with the team to D.C. for Tuesday’s exhibition finale against the Yankees and whether he will report to Rochester or become a free agent.
Those moves seemed to set the Opening Day roster, with infielder Michael Chavis winning the final spot on the bench and Anthony Banda, Thaddeus Ward, Mason Thompson and Hobie Harris filling the last four spots in the bullpen. But Martinez insisted the roster is not set in stone yet and said he has not informed any of those players they’ve made the club yet.
“There’s no set roster right now,” Martinez said. “We still have decisions to make. We probably won’t make any decisions until we go back to D.C.”
Espino’s demotion was probably the biggest surprise of today’s moves, though the 36-year-old knew all spring it was a possibility because he still had minor league options despite his age. Since getting called up in April 2021 to make an emergency start for an injured Stephen Strasburg, Espino had been part of the Nationals’ big league roster, going 5-14 with a 4.56 ERA in 77 games (38 as a starter, 39 as a reliever).
Espino’s track record as an effective long reliever seemed to put him in good shape entering camp, but ultimately the Nats felt they couldn’t afford to keep both him and Ward, the Rule 5 draft pick who will serve as the long man in the bullpen and must remain on the major league roster or injured list the entire season or else be offered back to the Red Sox.
“I think I’ve done a really good job in spring,” he said. “But at the same time, I have options. There’s always a possibility (of getting demoted) having options. I know some of the guys, most of them, don’t have options. It’s just part of the game, part of baseball, and some decisions they have to make. For my part, I’m just going to go where they send me and I’m going to put in the innings I need to do to get the job done. And hopefully be back up soon.”
Espino will start at Triple-A and will probably be an option for the Nationals if and when they need rotation help this season.
“He’s still a part of our organization,” Martinez said. “We love everything he’s done. He’s done so much. At this point where we’re at, we need starters. And we feel like, if something does happen, he can come up here and start for us and we won’t miss a beat.”
Colome, Machado and Peralta all were trying to make the club as non-roster invitees to camp despite considerable big league experience, especially in the cases of Colome and Peralta. Those two veterans, though, struggled this spring, with Colome allowing seven runs on 12 hits and seven walks in 9 2/3 innings and Peralta allowing 13 runs on 19 hits and five walks in 9 2/3 innings.
Given the club announced Colome and Peralta were reassigned to minor league camp, it appears both will be reporting to Rochester to open the season instead of opting out and becoming free agents.
Machado had a strong spring, tossing four scoreless innings with zero walks and seven strikeouts and impressing as a reliever for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic. But because he was dropped from the 40-man roster over the winter and re-signed on a minor league deal, he was in a less-advantageous position in camp. The Nationals fully expect Machado, who has a 3.41 ERA in 93 appearances for them over the last two seasons, to be summoned from Triple-A before long.
“He’s in that same predicament,” Martinez said. “I told him: Things change. It could change in three weeks.”
The final spot on the bench had been narrowed down to three remaining contenders in recent days, with Chavis, Downs and Adams still in the mix. Chavis is now the only one left, though the utilityman hasn’t yet made the team and could be dropped as well if the Nationals find someone else who better fits their ideal description for that particular roster spot.
“I just think the 26th man needs to be someone we can have pinch-run, do a lot of different things,” Martinez said. “But that doesn’t mean something doesn’t change in three weeks, six weeks, whatever.”
Downs, the former top prospect of the Dodgers and Red Sox, will be an everyday player for Rochester to begin the season but would be the choice to take over in Washington at either shortstop or second base if CJ Abrams or Luis Garcia suffered an injury.
“We think he’s a big part of our future,” Martinez said. “I love what I saw from him. But he’s 24 years old, and we want him to play every day.”
Adams was hoping to make a longshot bid to return to the big leagues after spending 2022 playing independent ball. A popular member of the Nationals’ 2019 World Series club, he hit .333 (13-for-39) with five doubles and a homer this spring.
Adams now faces a crossroads, left to decide whether to come to D.C. for Tuesday’s exhibition and then report to Rochester or attempt to catch on with another organization.
“I love Matty,” Martinez said. “He’s had an unbelievable camp. He’s got a decision to make now, as well. For our sake, I hope he decides to stay with us.”
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