JUPITER, Fla. – The Nationals made three more cuts this morning, narrowing their options for the final spot on the bench to three players and the competition for four available spots in the bullpen to eight healthy arms.
Outfielder Stone Garrett and left-hander Jose Ferrer were optioned to Triple-A Rochester, with infielder Leonel Valera reassigned to minor league camp.
Those moves leave 32 healthy players in major league camp, so six more must be cut before the Opening Day roster is set next week.
Garrett’s demotion to Rochester finalized what already had become clear over the course of the spring: Alex Call will make the club as the fourth outfielder. The 28-year-old has been the Nationals’ most consistent hitter in Grapefruit League play, entering today’s game batting .333 (13-for-39) with four doubles, four RBI and six walks.
“He’s done really well,” manager Davey Martinez said. “I like him. He’s a pesky guy, and he put together some good at-bats this spring. I know he can do that. When we got him last year, that’s something we liked about him. He’ll accept his walks. He has long ABs. And he puts the ball in play.”
Garrett, acquired from the Diamondbacks this winter, had three extra-base hits in 40 plate appearances this spring but struck out 12 times, underscoring his biggest drawbacks at the plate. Valera, a 23-year-old infielder who has yet to play above Double-A, was just 3-for-24 this spring but impressed club officials with his defense at multiple positions and maturity.
“He’s got unbelievable skills,” Martinez said. “He showed signs of what he can be. Now we just have to get him consistent.”
Those demotions leave three remaining healthy players in camp battling for one remaining spot on the Opening Day bench: infielders Michael Chavis and Jeter Downs, plus veteran first baseman/designated hitter Matt Adams. Chavis provides defensive flexibility, Downs has the highest upside as a former top prospect of the Red Sox and Dodgers and Adams has the most significant track record and the ability to hit for power off the bench.
“It’s still up in the air,” Martinez said. “We’ve still got some games left. As you know, we can only carry 26. That doesn’t necessarily mean I don’t like the guys we don’t carry. There’s always opportunity. But we haven’t made any decisions yet.”
Ferrer’s chances of making the club were slim from the outset, given his inexperience. The 23-year-old has pitched only seven games at Double-A. But he allowed only one run in 4 2/3 innings this spring and will open at Triple-A, suggesting he could make his major league debut sometime this season.
“The guy has no fear,” Martinez said. “He’s going to give you everything he has, every time he’s out there. He doesn’t seem to get rattled about much of anything, and that’s awesome.”
Ferrer’s demotion leaves Anthony Banda as the only remaining healthy left-handed reliever in big league camp. That doesn’t necessarily guarantee him a spot on the club, though.
“I’ve said this for six years: Yeah, I’d like to carry one (lefty),” Martinez said, admitting they haven’t always had one worthy of a spot. “Every time he goes out, he’s throwing the ball a lot better. The thing with him is strikes. He’s got good stuff, but he’s got to pound the strike zone. That’s something we’re going to be looking for in his next few outings.”
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