With nine days to go, another crack at a 26-man roster

We have reached the stretch run of the spring. Yes, as of this morning, the Nationals have completed 31 days of camp. Only nine remain before everyone packs up shop in West Palm Beach, Fla., and heads north.

There's still a lot that can and will change between now and then. And there are plenty of questions that still must be resolved. But the shape of the opening night roster seems to be taking more shape now.

With the important caveat that several of these spots are far from locked up, let's take a crack at the possible 26-man roster that could be taking the field April 1 at Nationals Park ...

Thumbnail image for Ross-Delivers-vs-PHI-White-Sidebar.jpgROTATION (5): Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, Jon Lester, Joe Ross
Manager Davey Martinez hasn't made any official announcements about the identity of his No. 5 starter, but at this point something out of the ordinary would probably have to happen for Ross not to win the job. The right-hander has done what he needed to do this spring, proving he's healthy and able to build his arm back up after opting out of the 2020 season. Martinez also hasn't announced who his opening night starter will be, and indeed the ultimate rotation order could still be tinkered with as Strasburg returns from a calf strain and Lester returns from parathyroid surgery.

BULLPEN (8): Brad Hand, Daniel Hudson, Tanner Rainey, Wander Suero, Kyle Finnegan, Javy Guerra, Austin Voth, Luis Avilán
What looked like an overstacked, deep unit only two weeks ago doesn't look quite as intimidating now after Will Harris was diagnosed with a blood clot in his right arm and Jeremy Jeffress was released for "personnel reasons." On the bright side, Rainey is ready to make his Grapefruit League debut after dealing with a muscle strain near his collarbone. Suero has really impressed this spring and is looking to take on a more significant role, and Finnegan had a promising rookie season. The other three spots, though, really are up for grabs at this point. Given his experience and rubber arm, Guerra seems like a strong bet to make it as a non-roster invitee. And Voth seems the likeliest bet to be the long man, with Erick Fedde starting every day at Triple-A. That leaves one more spot. Right-handers Ryne Harper and Kyle McGowin are candidates, but the Nats might prefer a second lefty. So we'll give a slight leg up to veteran Avilán over the optionable Sam Clay and former Oriole T.J. McFarland.

CATCHERS (2): Yan Gomes, Alex Avila
There's no mystery here. Gomes and Avila are going to be the Nationals' catching tandem to open the season (barring something strange over the next week). And though the sense at the start of camp was that Gomes would start the majority of games, it might just be closer to a 50-50 split than we thought. Avila has been earning the staff's trust, and his past work with Scherzer, Corbin and Lester are selling points for the veteran to get some more regular starts behind the plate (maybe even on opening night).

INFIELDERS (7): Josh Bell, Starlin Castro, Trea Turner, Carter Kieboom, Ryan Zimmerman, Josh Harrison, Hernán Pérez
For all the time spent scrutinizing every one of his spring training at-bats and plays in the field, Kieboom is still probably going to open the season as the Nationals third baseman. If he's not, there's a domino effect this roster isn't exactly equipped to handle. Harrison would be the only potential replacement, and the club likes his versatility (including his ability to play the outfield). Speaking of versatility, Pérez has that going for him as well. The nine-year veteran has played at least 28 big league games at seven different positions, and he's even pitched seven times. He hasn't locked up the final spot on the bench, but right now he would seem to hold an edge over Jordy Mercer, Adrián Sanchez and Yasmany Tomás.

OUTFIELDERS (4): Juan Soto, Victor Robles, Kyle Schwarber, Andrew Stevenson
We know how the starting outfield alignment is going to look, and we've known all along Stevenson was a near-lock to serve as the fourth outfielder. His speed, excellent pinch-hitting numbers and ability to play center field make him an ideal fit for that job. The Nationals could elect to keep a true fifth outfielder, and if they did it would be either Gerardo Parra (who is just now getting into full game action following offseason knee surgery) or Yadiel Hernández (who has torn the cover off the ball this spring). But with Harrison and Pérez capable of playing the corner outfield positions as well as anywhere in the infield, it doesn't seem necessary to keep another full-time outfielder.

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