VIERA, Fla. -- Looking for pitching depth in the Minor Leagues, the Nationals signed former Pirate and Astro Zach Duke to a Minor League deal. He is expected to start the season for Triple-A Syracuse.
Duke was best known as a highly-touted prospect with the Pirates after going 8-2 with a 1.82 ERA in 2005.
"It was a good move. Our depth isn't what it was last year," manager Davey Johnson said.
Duke started the spring with the Astros before getting released by the club on Tuesday.
Michaels released in latest round of cuts
VIERA, Fla. -- The Nationals made another round of roster cuts on Thursday, releasing outfielder Jason Michaels and reassigning infielder Andres Blanco to Minor League camp. They also optioned relievers Atahualpa Severino and Ryan Perry to Triple-A Syracuse.
"All of them proved they could play up here," manager Davey Johnson said. "But we are getting close [to Opening Day]. They need to get ready for their seasons."
Michaels, who plans to continue his professional baseball career, became expendable once Johnson decided on Wednesday that Xavier Nady would be given a chance to make the team as a bench player. Michaels was 9-for-37 (.243) with a homer and seven RBIs.
"I told him he had nothing to prove to me with the bat. It just wasn't quite a fit," Johnson said about Michaels. "I would have killed [to have him] last year. ... I like him. I like his makeup. I like what he brings to the ballclub, but it wasn't quite there for him."
Michaels had nothing but praise for the Nationals, stating they are a team on the rise in the National League East.
"I understood going in that nothing is a lock," Michaels said. "I had to work my way on the team. I'll tell you: This is a great team, a lot of talent. I guess I wasn't the right fit. But I was very gracious for the opportunity to come here and compete."
Asked if he felt Nady was the reason he was let go, Michaels said: "I didn't even think about that. He is a good player. I played with him in Pittsburgh."
Blanco played great defense around the infield, but was 2-for-32 (.063) this spring. His departure gives Steve Lombardozzi a greater chance to make the 25-man roster. Johnson didn't give any guarantees that Lombardozzi would make the club as a bench player. Entering Thursday's action, Lombardozzi is hitting .302 and leads the team in hits.
It's a given that infielder Mark DeRosa and catcher Jesus Flores will be on the bench, while Johnson continues to show an admiration for outfielder Brett Carroll.
Severino allowed two runs in 5 1/3 innings. His chances of making the team were slim due to the great talent in the bullpen. The same can be said for Perry, who allowed a run in eight innings with nine strikeouts.
LaRoche singles in return to lineup
VIERA, Fla. -- Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche started his first Major League exhibition game since March 15 vs. the Braves on Thursday. He went 1-for-2 with a walk against Braves left-hander Mike Minor. LaRoche, who had left-foot issues, didn't have any problems running the bases.
LaRoche is expected to play again against the Marlins on Friday. There were thoughts that he could start the season on the 15-day disabled list, but that will not be the case.
"I like to keep going until I feel something," LaRoche said. "If I feel something, let's take a day. This is a good time now to test it. We have taken the 10 days [off]. Let's push it a little bit and see how it's going to bounce back, back-to-back days."
Manager Davey Johnson even went so far as to say that he may not platoon LaRoche with Mark DeRosa after all.
"All options are opened to me. But I wanted him to know that he looked good to me," Johnson said about LaRoche's at-bats against Minor.
Morse, Storen to go north with team after camp
VIERA, Fla. -- Manager Davey Johnson announced that Michael Morse and closer Drew Storen will travel north with the Nationals after Monday's game against the Red Sox.
Johnson said he wants to keep an eye on Storen and Morse, who are expected to rehab their injuries in Washington. Morse is recovering from a strained right lat [back] muscle, while Storen is recovering from elbow inflammation.
Both players are expected start the season on the disabled list and then return to action around mid-April.
Lannan to see action vs. Marlins Friday
VIERA, Fla. -- Left-hander John Lannan isn't scheduled to pitch his first regular-season game until April 10 against the Mets, but manager Davey Johnson announced that Lannan will pitch Friday against the Marlins.
Lannan will enter the game in relief. Stephen Strasburg is expected to start. Lannan will then have a bullpen session and maybe get into a game against the Red Sox in an exhibition game on Tuesday at Nationals Park.
"That would be a tune up for his [regular-season] start," Johnson said.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.