Nats preparing for expanded roster

Major league rosters expand to 28 players today, allowing teams to carry two extra players from now through the end of the regular season.

For general manager Mike Rizzo and the Nationals, there are a couple of different ways they can utilize the extra spots.

“We talked about a few things,” manager Davey Martinez said before last night’s opener against the Marlins. “Mike and the crew upstairs are really bearing down and figuring out what we want to do and which direction we want to go in.”

Teams are allowed to have a maximum of 14 pitchers in September. The Nats will call up one pitcher and have a 10-man bullpen at least for the weekend while starter MacKenzie Gore is on the bereavement list, which means he has to miss at least three games.

If Gore needs more time before returning, the Nationals will still be able to start Patrick Cobin on regular rest thanks to Monday’s off-day and the six-man rotation. The extra man in the bullpen also helps as added insurance. Left-hander Joe La Sorsa was activated to the roster yesterday to take Gore’s roster spot for now.

Easy additions to the ‘pen would have been Tanner Rainey or Thaddeus Ward if either were ready to return from injury. But Rainey pitched on back-to-back days for the first time last night at Triple-A Rochester and Ward, who is getting stretched out to either start or cover multiple innings, threw a bullpen session yesterday and isn’t scheduled to pitch again until Tuesday.

Hobie Harris, Amos Willingham and Cory Abbott are minor league relievers already available on the 40-man roster.

“It'll be awesome. Having that extra guy will definitely help us, especially going with that six-man rotation,” Martinez said. “We've been pretty fortunate that our guys have done well. I know after talking to our starters, the six-man rotation didn't bother them a bit. I think the extra days helped these guys. The bullpen, we kind of managed their innings the best we can and for the most part, we've done a pretty good job with that. The biggest thing is keeping these guys healthy, right? So far, so good.”

As for position players, the Nationals have more available players to choose from. The bigger decision is which position group to add to.

Luis García is an obvious infielder who has spent significant time on the big league roster. But he hasn’t produced much at Rochester since being sent down.

Plus, the Nationals really need another outfielder. Alex Call, Lane Thomas and Jacob Young are the only true outfielders currently on the roster, with Jake Alu and Ildemaro Vargas taking some reps in the outfield when needed.

Thomas also isn’t totally healthy, having been removed from Wednesday’s game in Toronto with tightness in his back and scratched from Thursday’s lineup with the same ailment.

The Nationals cannot bring back Blake Rutherford nor Jeter Downs, both of whom were optioned down to Rochester over the weekend in Miami and haven't spent the required 10 days in the minors before being recalled again.

Travis Blankenhorn and Derek Hill are possibilities to add to the outfield. But would require a corresponding 40-man roster move. The Washington Post reported late last night Blankenhorn is getting the call as the Nats' extra position player.

Top prospects such as Dylan Crew, James Wood, Robert Hassell III, Jackson Rutledge and Matt Cronin are not likely to join the Nats just yet. But it would not be a surprise to see any of them at some point this month.

However, the Nats choose to fill the two extra spots, the added help will be welcomed for the final stretch of the season.

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