PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The Nationals bid farewell to two veteran relievers Monday morning, ending their auditions to make the Opening Day bullpen.Right-handers Joseph Nathan and Matt Albers were unconditionally released despite strong performances this spring that left an impression. But the Nationals simply did not have enough open
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The Nationals bid farewell to two veteran relievers Monday morning, ending their auditions to make the Opening Day bullpen.
Right-handers Joseph Nathan and Matt Albers were unconditionally released despite strong performances this spring that left an impression. But the Nationals simply did not have enough open spots in their bullpen for either player.
"They're both big league worthy," manager Dusty Baker said. "Their stuff is still big league, just wouldn't fit with us right now, especially with the deadline."
Monday was the deadline for Nathan to exercise the opt-out clause in his contract, forcing the Nationals to make the decision despite Baker's fondness for the veteran. However, Nathan did feel like this spring has showed him he can still be an effective Major League pitcher at 42 years old and coming off Tommy John surgery. In 12 appearances, he allowed five runs in 11 2/3 innings (3.86 ERA), and Baker felt Nathan got stronger as the spring went on.
Even though the Nationals had all but made their decision Sunday, they allowed Nathan to pitch another inning, which he appreciated as a chance to audition for another team.
"It was a good spring, a good test for me," Nathan said. "They definitely worked me, kept me busy. That's what [pitching coach] Mike [Maddux] promised me when I came in. He lived up to that. So I appreciate that. Because that's going to help me down the road now trying to get on with another team.
"It wasn't that I didn't meet their expectations or go beyond it. It was just a matter of numbers in this game, and I've been part of that before."
Albers meanwhile threw 11 2/3 scoreless innings this spring, proving he can go back-to-back or multiple innings when needed. Baker said the Nats would like to keep Albers, 34, in the organization if at all possible.
When Nathan and Albers both agreed to come to Nationals camp, there seemed to be more vacancies in the bullpen, with as many as three spots uncertain. But those have been filled quickly: the team signed Joe Blanton; Koda Glover has emerged as an almost certainty and could end up being the closer; and the final spot is likely a battle between left-hander Enny Romero, who is out of Minors options, and a potential long reliever.
And that's why there was no room for one of the veterans, despite their impressive efforts.
"It's never easy to swallow. It's still disappointing," Nathan said. "You come to Spring Training and get to know everybody, and that's what Spring Training is all about: creating chemistry, getting to know the guys and developing friendships to go into the season. That's a difficult thing. And if I do end up with another team, it's going to be all brand new, unless it's a team that I've been with before. We'll see what happens."
Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.