Rizzo on ever-changing roster: "Nobody said it would be easy"

Mike Rizzo goes into every season knowing there will be unexpected ailments and performances that require roster changes. And the Nationals general manager goes into every season prepared to tap into as much depth as is necessary from his club's farm system.

The first month of this season, though, is testing that depth like never before.

"It's a grind, man," Rizzo said this afternoon before his fourth-place, 11-14 Nationals opened a 10-game homestand. "Nobody said it would be easy."

Well, it hasn't been easy. Through the season's first four weeks, the Nationals have placed seven players off their opening day roster on the disabled list (and that doesn't include Daniel Murphy, Koda Glover or Joaquin Benoit, who already were on the DL prior to that point). They've optioned two players to Triple-A. They've designated three players for assignment and cut ties with them altogether. And they've promoted a staggering 11 players from their farm system in an attempt to patch the countless holes that have opened up through a rocky April.

Rizzo-Martinez-Chat-Sidebar.jpg"We're proud of what we've got," Rizzo said. "We've got good young players that are behind our veteran guys. And you look at our minor league system, there's still more down there. These days, it takes not only 25, but it takes 45 and sometimes beyond that. Who'd have thought in spring training that we'd have three or four non-roster invitees that have already made the club, and we're not even out of April yet?"

No, there isn't anybody who expected the Nationals to be sending out lineup cards that included Moisés Sierra, Andrew Stevenson and Adrian Sanchez in prominent positions, nor to be summoning relievers like Carlos Torres, Trevor Gott or Austin L. Adams in key spots in games at this early stage of the season.

And it's probably going to remain that way for at least a bit longer. Of the three starting position players now on the DL, only Anthony Rendon (who is eligible to return Sunday) appears close to rejoining the lineup, with neither Adam Eaton (who was having his ankle re-examined by a doctor today) nor Murphy (who is still in extended spring training) on the verge of playing for the big league club.

"We're trying to play good baseball until we can get some reinforcements, some of our really good players back in the lineup," Rizzo said. "I like the fact that some younger players are getting opportunities, and I think they've fared pretty well. And I think we've played pretty well, considering the lineups that we've had out there at times aren't the lineups we thought we were going to have at the end of April."

The Nationals can take solace knowing they'll eventually have their lineup stalwarts back, but there aren't major reinforcements coming in the bullpen. Shawn Kelley (who was playing catch today after landing on the DL Tuesday with elbow nerve irritation), Glover (throwing off flat ground in West Palm Beach) and Benoit (also now throwing in West Palm Beach) may return at some point to help, but none can be considered a sure thing.

Manager Davey Martinez knows he has three sure things in Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson and Brandon Kintzler for the late innings, but he's still trying to piece together the rest of games with an assortment of arms, some of whom have been injured along the way.

"There's a bunch of guys we trust out there," Rizzo said. "(Matt) Grace has thrown great for us, and then of course he tweaked his groin. (Sammy) Solís has flashes of brilliance, and then has been inconsistent at times. From the right side, Gott has been a pleasant surprise for us coming into the big league part of it. We saw him (pitch) really well down in spring training. We like where we're at. We're trying to get a rhythm in that bullpen, and we're trying to get specific roles for guys. I like the fact that Davey has been a little inventive and open-minded about how he uses them. I think that's all worked out well for us."

The Nationals have made significant trades for a closer each of the last three Julys. They won't be in that market this summer, but it would certainly seem like they'll be shopping for some more bullpen depth, even if Rizzo won't admit that yet.

"We like the staff that we have right now," he said. "We think it's going to be a lockdown bullpen. We like our big three at the back of it, and like I just said we think we've got plenty of guys to bridge from our really good starting rotation to that seventh, eighth inning. I think we're really fortunate in that regard."

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