Nathan on unconditional release: "I get it"

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - Joe Nathan and Matt Albers did just about everything within their power to convince the Nationals to make them part of their opening day roster. In the end, the club simply didn't have space for either veteran in its deep bullpen.

The Nationals granted both Nathan and Albers their unconditional releases this morning, beating a noon Eastern time deadline that required the pitchers either to be told they had made the club or else be paid a $100,000 retention bonus to report to the minors.

Neither wasn't completely shocked by the decision, given how overcrowded the Nats relief corps had become during the course of the spring. But each felt like he had done enough to warrant a coveted roster spot.

Joe-Nathan-throw-red-spring-sidebar.jpg"Everything I could control, I feel like I did well," Nathan said. "It wasn't that I didn't meet their expectations or go beyond it. It was just a matter of numbers in this game, and I've been part of that before. I've seen it before. So I get it."

Nathan, trying to make it all the way back at 42 after two Tommy John surgeries, posted a 3.86 ERA in 12 Grapefruit League appearances, with a fastball that regularly sat at 92 mph.

The owner of 377 career saves, he was hoping the Nationals' lack of experience in the ninth inning might create an opening for him. But with rookie Koda Glover pitching well this spring and likely to make the team as closer or in a setup role, along with the mid-spring signing of Joe Blanton and the emergence of left-hander Enny Romero, he realized the odds were stacked against him.

"A couple things changed that really tightened up this pen to make it deeper," Nathan said. "One of those where you come in ... and I think Vance (Worley) touched on it earlier, too, he said when he signed here, he thought he might have a pretty good shot. But then you look around, you get to camp and you go, 'Wow, these guys are pretty stocked in the bullpen.' Everyone talks about the 'pen being the weakness. They're pretty deep."

Manager Dusty Baker spoke glowingly about Nathan throughout the spring and reiterated Sunday he believes the veteran has proven he can still pitch in the big leagues. If that happens, though, it will happen elsewhere.

"There's 29 other teams," Nathan said. "I knew every time I took the mound this spring, it wasn't just to try to make this club but showcase for other teams. It was important for me to get out there, even yesterday, in a spot where they probably already knew I wasn't going to make this team. They still got me on the mound to pitch, and I appreciate that. (Baker) helped me out even when he probably knew I wasn't going to be on this club, to send me out there and get another look with other clubs."

Albers, meanwhile, pitched 11 2/3 scoreless innings this spring, but couldn't beat out others competing for perhaps one available spot in the bullpen. He, too, will look to sign with another club after packing his things and saying goodbye to teammates this morning in West Palm Beach.

"They're both big league worthy," Baker said. "Their stuff is still big league. Just wouldn't fit with us right now, especially with the deadline. ...

"It really hurts. This is the part of spring that I hate every year, that I don't look forward to. It might be easier on some guys, but it's not on me."

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