WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The Nationals understand that to get through an entire season, they will so often need to use their full 40-man roster. It will be an important factor they keep in mind as they make crucial roster decisions over the next two weeks leading up to Opening Day on March 29.
Sometimes keeping the best 25-man roster does not break down as easily, with 27 or 28 players in the mix. So Minor League options will play a large factor in Washington's roster decisions to start the season. The club has four players who are out of options in outfielder Brian Goodwin, right-hander A.J. Cole and left-handers Enny Romero and Matt Grace.
Cole and Goodwin seem like locks to make the Opening Day roster, as they're coming off impressive showings at the end of the 2017 season. Cole will almost certainly be the team's fifth starter after spending the past few years as a spot starter. But his final two months in the Majors stood out to some within the organization, and he should get his chance to prove himself at the start of the season. Goodwin had a solid rookie season that has helped his case to serve as a key contributor off the bench.
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Where the Nationals will have to make key decisions is in their bullpen, especially regarding Romero and Grace.
The Nats could have some roster flexibility with another left-hander, Sammy Solis, who has one Minor League option left on his contract. Even though Solis may have the highest upside among the trio of lefties, it is possible the Nationals won't include Solis on their Opening Day roster in order to keep all three in the organization for the long haul.
Gonzalez builds up stamina
There was a brief moment of concern during left-hander Giovany Gonzalez's outing in Friday afternoon's 4-2 win over the Cardinals when manager Dave Martinez and trainer Paul Lessard came out of the dugout to check on a wincing Gonzalez, who appeared to land awkwardly after a pitch. However, Gonzalez laughed about it afterward.
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"I told Davey, 'I know this is our first rodeo together, but I do that a lot,'" Gonzalez said, laughing. "And especially now that I'm up in age."
It was an otherwise strong outing for the 32-year-old Gonzalez, who allowed one run on four hits and one walk in five innings, striking out three.
Eaton, Taylor set for Grapefruit League action
The Nationals are getting a pair of significant names back in their lineup for Saturday's game against the Mets. Left fielder Adam Eaton (torn ACL) will make his Grapefruit League debut and see his first action against Major Leaguers in about 11 months. Center fielder Michael A. Taylor, meanwhile, will make his first start since March 4 after being sidelined with tightness in his right side.
It's a significant milestone for Eaton, who has been playing on the backfields in Minor League games for weeks but will now test his surgically repaired right knee in big league games. It was part of the Nationals' plan all along to ease Eaton slowly into Grapefruit League action, the outfielder said, and he estimated that he has gotten about 50 or 60 at-bats on the backfields.
For Eaton, the Nationals' games until Opening Day will be more about playing the outfield and running the bases than his performance at the plate. He sees it as somewhat of an accelerated Spring Training with just under two weeks until Opening Day, and he plans to start off with a few innings per game and work his way up to a full contest.
"There are no ghost runners, and there are no limitations," Eaton said. "It's time to go, and we're going to go."
All eyes will be on Eaton and Taylor when the Nationals host the Mets on Saturday at 1:05 p.m. ET in a game airing on Gameday Audio. Eaton is expected to get about two at-bats behind right-hander Tanner Roark, who will be making his fifth Grapefruit League start.