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Fernando Abad is surprisingly in the mix for the final bullpen spot.
Nearly halfway through spring training, that spot remains very much up for grabs, except now there's no telling who will emerge from the pack after a combination of injuries and demotions has thrown a wrench into the Nationals' plans.
Yesterday's first round of cuts eliminated three left-handers from big-league camp: Bray, veteran Will Ohman and spring training invitee Brandon Mann. Which, on the surface, would seem to further emphasize the likelihood of the Nationals' opening the season without a traditional, lefty specialist in their bullpen.
Just one problem: The right-handers contending for that spot haven't seen any game action yet due to injuries.
Rodriguez continues to be brought along slowly following last summer's surgery to remove a bone spur from his right elbow. Though the flamethrower has made some progress since camp began, he has suggested his arm isn't 100 percent yet, and the club's ultra-cautious approach seems to suggest an April stint on the disabled list remains more than plausible.
Garcia, meanwhile, has been sidelined more than a week with a tendon strain in his forearm/wrist. Given his injury history -- two Tommy John surgeries on his elbow -- an ultra-cautious approach seems likely here as well, as does the possibility of an early season trip to the DL.
Those injuries opened the door for Bray to swoop in and prove his worth, but the one-time Expos first-round pick is still trying to sort out his wayward mechanics after missing time last season with a groin injury. So the Nationals shipped him to minor-league camp yesterday. They say Bray still has a chance to return to big-league camp and make the club, but that's probably wishful thinking more than anything.
So, who does that leave in the running for the final spot on the Nationals' roster? Some surprising -- and not-so-well-known -- names.
There's Cole Kimball, once viewed as one of the most promising arms in the organization before major shoulder surgery derailed his career about 18 months ago. Kimball appears to be healthy again, but the sense remains he could use some more time to fine-tune his pitching, and the best place to do that is at Class AAA Syracuse.
There's Jeremy Accardo, a 31-year-old right-hander with 55 games of big-league experience who came to the Nationals on a minor-league deal and hasn't exactly distinguished himself so far in allowing nine batters to reach base in only three Grapefruit League innings.
And then there's Fernando Abad, who you probably didn't even know was on the roster when camp opened. The 27-year-old lefty has 25 games of experience with the Astros over the last four seasons. He has tossed three scoreless innings this spring. And he's got an impressive arm that stood out from the first time he took the bullpen mound three weeks ago.
Is this unlikely left-hander going to be the final man on the Nationals' Opening Day roster? It's too early to say that, but he certainly finds himself in the mix all of a sudden.
The favorite probably remains Rodriguez, who still has plenty of time to prove he's healthy and see enough game action to convince the club he's good to go come April 1. If not, perhaps Garcia will return to the mound in time to make his case.
But the notion of Abad heading north with the club -- something nobody would have speculated a few short weeks ago -- shouldn't be dismissed. If Mike Rizzo and Davey Johnson really do want another left-hander in their bullpen, and if Abad proves a more effective and healthier choice than others in the running, there just might be a surprise pitcher standing along the first base line at Nationals Park on Opening Day as the national anthem plays before a sellout crowd.
Who saw that one coming?