Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Craig Stammen is trying to win a spot in the Nationals' bullpen.
Over these final 2 1/2 weeks of camp, the Nats have a number of decisions to make, trying to put pieces of the puzzle together that ultimately produces the 25-man Opening Day roster. The way these various pieces interlock, one decision can directly affect two or three others, complicating the process.
Everyone knew what the biggest roster battles were entering the spring. But where do things stand now, on March 14?
Let's run through several competitions...
Entering camp: Roger Bernadina vs. Michael Morse vs. Rick Ankiel
This one has all but been decided already. Morse has been a beast at the plate this spring, going 14-for-28 with five homers, 10 RBI and an insane 1.623 OPS. That prompted both Jim Riggleman and Mike Rizzo to essentially declare Morse their Opening Day left fielder over the weekend.
Not that Bernadina and Ankiel haven't acquitted themselves well during camp. Each has performed well, with Bernadina in particular impressing with his combination of power and speed. That puts both of these guys in something of a competition with Nyjer Morgan for the job in center field. It's still Morgan's to lose, and it seems unlikely the Nationals are just going to cut ties with Nyjer, who has picked up his game a bit the last few days (though he's still just 5-for-29 at the plate). But Bernadina and Ankiel are putting even more pressure on Morgan to seize the job that he once had locked up.
NO. 5 STARTER
Entering camp: Tom Gorzelanny the front-runner, with challenges from Yunesky Maya, Chien-Ming Wang and Ross Detwiler
This hasn't necessarily changed. Gorzelanny, for reasons having more to do with his lack of minor-league options, remains the front-runner. Something drastic would have to happen for the left-hander not to make it.
That said, there has been more of a challenge from below than we probably expected entering the spring. Detwiler has been fantastic (two earned runs, 10 strikeouts, one walk in nine innings), as has Maya (one earned run in 8 2/3 innings). Chad Gaudin (12 strikeouts, two walks in 11 innings) has thrust himself into the fray as well, though Gaudin might ultimately best slot into a long reliever's role. Early in camp, it appeared Wang might actually throw his hat in the ring. But his timetable has been pushed back due to shoulder tightness, and he's going to open the season on the DL.
Entering camp: Wilson Ramos vs. Jesus Flores
Ramos has all but locked this one up. He's been sharp both at and behind the plate, while Flores has shown you can't just miss the majority of two big-league seasons and expect to slide seamlessly back into the mix. Flores' shoulder is 100 percent healthy, which is the most important development for him. But he needs to play every day at Class AAA Syracuse to get back into the flow of things, not play two or three times a week in D.C. as Ivan Rodriguez's backup.
Entering camp: Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett and Todd Coffey assured of jobs. Doug Slaten and Henry Rodriguez likely assured of jobs. Collin Balester, Craig Stammen, Elvin Ramirez and Chad Gaudin competing for perhaps one remaining slot.
Nothing really appears to have changed. The top four guys are secure, even though Storen has struggled this spring. Slaten seems to be a safe bet to make it as the second left-hander in the pen. Rodriguez, who was incredibly wild in his spring debut yesterday, needs to step things up soon to ensure he makes it. The hard-throwing right-hander, though, is out of options, so he'd really have to stink up the joint not to make the roster.
Of the other guys in the mix, Gaudin may be the most likely choice because of his ability to be a long reliever and emergency starter. Balester and Stammen have both pitched well this spring, but each has options. Ramirez, meanwhile, is in a world of trouble. He hasn't pitched in a game yet, is battling arm trouble and is running out of time. As a Rule 5 draftee, the right-hander either has to make the Opening Day roster or be offered back to the Mets. It's possible the Nationals could work out a deal to keep him. It's also possible he could wind up on the DL and remain property of the Nats.
Entering camp: Jerry Hairston, two of three guys competing for left field and the winner of the backup catcher battle assured of jobs. Alberto Gonzalez, Alex Cora and Matt Stairs competing for one remaining job.
This one remains up in the air, with a lot of interchangeable parts involved. With Morse winning the left field job, Bernadina and Ankiel join Hairston and Ramos as locks on the bench (unless one of them ends up starting in center field).
The final spot on the bench could go to any one of those final three players, or perhaps even outfielder Laynce Nix, who has had a nice camp as a non-roster invitee. Or maybe infielder Brian Bixler, who also has looked sharp at the plate this spring.
This all likely comes down to what the Nationals need most off their bench. Do they need another infielder? If so, do they prefer Gonzalez's defense, Bixler's offense or Cora's experience? Would they prefer a pinch-hitting specialist like Stairs? With Morse in the lineup, do they need to ensure they have another right-handed bat off the bench?
Obviously, there's plenty left to sort out over the next 16 days.