VIERA, Fla. — The Nationals released left-hander Michael Gonzalez this afternoon, removing one more name from the competition for their final bullpen job about 48 hours before they break camp and head north to begin the season.
Gonzalez had signed a minor-league contract with the Nationals on March 4, hoping to pitch his way onto the club’s Opening Day roster. But the 35-year-old struggled in four Grapefruit League appearances, allowing four runs and seven hits in four innings.
Gonzalez could have opted out of his contract on Thursday if he wasn’t added to the club’s big-league roster, but the Nationals decided to release him now and give him a few more days to try to catch on with another team.
By removing Gonzalez from the mix, the Nationals moved one step closer to finalizing their Opening Day bullpen, but there remain several undecided factors toward making that final call.
There are, officially, four pitchers left in the competition: right-handers Ryan Mattheus, Aaron Barrett and Tanner Roark, plus left-hander Xavier Cedeno.
Mattheus, who only made his spring debut last week after recovering from a chest injury, remains unlikely to build his arm up enough to be ready for Opening Day. Roark is also competing for the Nationals’ No. 5 starter opening; if Taylor Jordan wins that job, Roark could instead make the club as a reliever.
Cedeno would give the Nationals three left-handers in their bullpen, something manager Matt Williams said is being considered because of some left-handed-heavy lineups on the early season schedule.
Barrett has been the most-effective of the bunch this spring, tossing 9 2/3 scoreless innings in his first-ever big-league camp. The 26-year-old arrived in Viera seemingly with little chance of making the roster, assigned a spot at the end of the clubhouse reserved for the minor leaguers who typically are the first players cut. This morning, though, Barrett remained right where he started, with 12 empty lockers between himself and Drew Storen, the next-closest pitcher.