[UPDATED AT 6:42 P.M.]
VIERA, Fla. -- Ron Villone was among six pitchers cut for Nationals camp this afternoon.
Villone, 40, was given his outright release. Collin Balester and Atahualpa Severino were optioned to Class AAA Syracuse. Aaron Thompson and Ryan Mattheus were optioned to Class AA Harrisburg. Juan Jaime was optioned to Class A Potomac.
The moves leave 45 players in big-league camp.
Villone was hoping to earn a spot as a left-handed specialist, a role he held last season while posting a 4.25 ERA in 63 games. But the veteran struggled this spring (allowing three runs, seven hits and six walks in 1 2/3 innings) and like fellow non-roster invitee Eddie Guardado was given his release.
"He's such a class act and just a wonderful guy and was a very effective pitcher for us last year," manager Jim Riggleman said. "It's tough, but I feel and I know Ron feels that he's going to pitch in the big leagues this year. Somebody will need a left-hander, and he's got such a great reputation. Somebody will call him."
With Guardado, Villone and Thompson now gone, the Nationals are almost certain to open the season with only one left-handed reliever: Sean Burnett. Doug Slaten and Jesse English do remain in camp, but each still has options and could open the season in the minors.
"We have a number of other young left-handers we think have upside and have a chance to contribute on a major league level with Slaten and English," general manager Mike Rizzo said. "We think they've pitched very well out of the bullpen. Those guys have options and they're young enough to be with us long-term."
Balester came to camp with an outside shot at cracking the rotation but didn't help himself posting an 8.31 ERA in two appearances spanning 4 1/3 innings. The 23-year-old will open the season in the rotation at Syracuse; he's made 45 starts at Class AAA over the last three seasons.
Thompson, 23, turned some heads this spring, with two scoreless appearances totaling four innings. The left-hander, acquired from the Marlins last July for Nick Johnson, will open the season at Harrisburg, but club officials believe he could be ready for the big leagues before year's end.
"I see him being a guy on the horizon that I think we can count on down the road," Rizzo said. "I think there's a big upside on him, and he's an exciting young left-handed arm to have in the organization. At the Double-A level at 23 years old, he's at a good place in his career right now."