03/22/2013 6:11 PM ET
Nats sign veteran lefty reliever Romero
By Bill Ladson / MLB.com
VIERA, Fla. -- Looking for bullpen insurance, the Nationals signed left-hander J.C. Romero to a Minor League deal with an invitation to Spring Training. He is expected to join the team on Saturday, when Washington plays the Mets in Port St. Lucie, Fla.
General manager Mike Rizzo indicated Romero will not make the Opening Day roster. Rizzo looks at this signing to be similar to when left-hander Michael Gonzalez signed a Minor League deal with Washington last May. Gonzalez later played a role in helping the team win the National League East title.
"It has been conveyed to him. We don't feel that it's realistic [that Romero will make the Opening Day roster]," Rizzo said. "He will go to the Minor Leagues, perform down there. If he can help us down the road, we'll go grab him."
The Nationals have been scouting Romero since early this month when he played for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic. Rizzo said Romero's fastball velocity was up.
This will be Romero's second tenure in the Nationals' organization. He played five games for Triple-A Syracuse in 2011. Last season, Romero played with the Cardinals and Orioles and he allowed a combined 12 runs in 12 innings.
"We are going to give J.C. an opportunity to see if he could help us," Rizzo said. "He is a veteran pitcher. We saw him in the [Classic] and he threw well. We'll see if he can help us on the Major League level."
Outfielder Jayson Werth is familiar with Romero. They were teammates when the Phillies won a World Series title in 2008. Werth said Romero is an emotional guy on the mound.
"I'm a big fan of J.C.'s. I'm definitely glad to have him on the team," Werth said. "Hopefully, he will get a chance to help us. I remember him getting some big outs [with the Phillies]. He is an emotional guy. At times, he would get out of big situations, he would show it. I remember him pounding his chest, fist pumping for quite a bit. That meant good things happened."
The Nationals will go into the season with one left-hander (Zach Duke) in the bullpen, and Rizzo is comfortable with that situation. Last year, the Nationals ended the postseason with three left-handers (Gonzalez, Sean Burnett and Tom Gorzelanny) in the bullpen, but those three either left via free agency or were non-tendered.
Strasburg's left hand 'fine' after line-drive scare
VIERA, Fla. -- The Nationals received a scare in the fourth inning Friday when Stephen Strasburg was hit on the left hand by a line drive off the bat of the Tigers' Prince Fielder.
With a runner on first base, Fielder hit a line drive up the middle. Strasburg tried to catch the ball, but it hit the bottom of his left hand and went into center field for a single. Strasburg was seen shaking his hand, while manager Davey Johnson, catcher Kurt Suzuki, pitching coach Steve McCatty and athletic trainer Lee Kuntz came to his aid.
"The hand is fine. It just kind of numbed up a little bit out there. It's a little tender, but nothing crazy," Strasburg said. "You have the adrenaline pumping. I thought I could have caught it. It took a while to sink in when it hit me. Then it got numb. I shook it out. It was just tender after that."
Strasburg would stay in the game and allow two runs in the fifth inning and finished with six innings pitched, allowing three runs on seven hits and striking out five batters.
"I thought I pitched pretty well," Strasburg said. "I got weak contact. They singled me to death besides the home run early. That's baseball."
Strasburg has one more Spring Training start before starting Opening Day against the Marlins on April 1 at Nationals Park. He said his arm felt so good that he could have gone more than six innings.
"My stamina is there," Strasburg said. "I definitely could have gone back out there for at least the rest of the game, to be honest. There were good signs."
Espinosa's approach paying dividends this spring
VIERA, Fla. -- Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa has shown improvement, especially from the left side of the plate.
Entering Saturday's action against the Mets, Espinosa is 10-for-35 (.286) with two RBIs batting left-handed. Overall, he has a .316 batting average and a .350 on-base percentage.
"He is in a great frame of mind and is expressing his talent," manager Davey Johnson said. "He is not trying to do too much with the ball. He is hitting the ball where it's pitched. He is getting more comfortable about who he is."
Toward the end of last year, Espinosa struggled and was striking out frequently. It didn't help that he was playing with a torn rotator cuff.
Although he elected not to have surgery and is not in any pain, Espinosa decided to change his approach to hitting, starting in batting practice.
"I'm just trying to stay with my approach. I'm just trying to hit down on the ball, attack the ball and not fall back on my back side," Espinosa said. "I'm just sticking with my plan in batting practice -- hit hard ground balls -- so I can maintain the right path. I'm not putting on any type of display except for ground balls in BP. I feel it's gotten my swing to where I want it to be."
Although Espinosa is not displaying any power, Johnson believes the home run power will come eventually.
"He is very strong. I'm not worried about that at all," Johnson said. "Don't even bring it up to him."
Nats have decisions to make on Rivero, Young
VIERA, Fla. -- The Nationals have some tough decisions to make regarding outfielder/infielder Carlos Rivero and right-hander Chris Young.
Rivero is out of Minor League options and he will not make the Opening Day roster. The Nationals could designate him for assignment or try to trade him. Entering Friday's action against the Tigers, Rivero was 7-for-41 (.171) with nine RBIs this spring.
"We'll know what other teams think of him," said general manager Mike Rizzo. "He is a good, versatile player. He is a guy that could help some teams. … We'll see shortly."
Barring an injury, Young is another person who will not make the 25-man roster and Rizzo indicated that Young will not start the season in the Minor Leagues.
Young could be in a situation similar to catcher Chris Snyder, who was released by the club because he had a better opportunity with the Angels.
"Once he really gets command of his stuff -- the longer he pitches in Spring Training -- I think he will really find himself, command wise," Rizzo said. "[Young] has an opportunity to pitch in the big leagues. We are certainly not going to keep him in the Minor Leagues if he has a chance at a big league job. That's only right. That's how we get these players to come with us under these conditions, because they know we are going to do right by them and treat them well."
• Rafael Soriano didn't pitch in Friday's game against the Tigers because of root canal surgery, but he will pitch in a Minor League game on Saturday. He also will pitch in consecutive Major League games on Wednesday and Thursday against the Braves and Mets, respectively.
• Rizzo acknowledged the Nationals scouted players who played in the World Baseball Classic. They looked at players from Cuba, Japan and Korea.
"It was kind of an easy way to scout the world at the [Classic]," Rizzo said. "That's one of the good things about the [Classic]. We get to see teams that we don't usually get to see. Now we scout the Pacific Rim every year anyway, but this gave us an additional look at Cuba and the rest of those teams. We didn't change our scouting patterns. We didn't lock in on one person or one position. It wasn't like we were scouring every reliever. We just scouted the normal way we scouted."
• The Nationals optioned right-hander Cole Kimball to Syracuse and reassigned right-hander Jeremy Accardo to Minor League camp.
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.