Building roster is painful

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Sports,MLB,Nationals,Brian McNally

Ailments of LaRoche, Morse leave questions

VIERA, Fla. -- The Nationals hit the midpoint of spring training with some questions answered and several left to deal with before the final 25-man roster is assembled and ready to head north for the start of the regular season.

The front office and coaching staff had some time to contemplate those remaining issues with a rare day off Monday. Players could come in for treatment at Space Coast Stadium or to work out if needed, but there was no exhibition game scheduled for the first time since March 1.

One certainty is that top prospect Bryce Harper will not be with the Nats on April 5 when they open the season at Wrigley Field against the Chicago Cubs. He was optioned to Triple-A Syracuse on Sunday. But the health of outfielder Michael Morse (strained right lat muscle) and first baseman Adam LaRoche (bone bruise, left foot) still could color the makeup of the final roster.

Neither is expected to participate in games before next weekend, though team officials remain hopeful both will be fine. LaRoche said Sunday he would play if this were the regular season. But their absence will give the team more exposure to bubble players like outfielders Jason Michaels and Brett Carroll and first baseman Chad Tracy.

"This gives me the opportunity to play some guys and give them a really good look," Washington manager Davey Johnson said. "They're going to make the decision on who makes my ball club. By having these guys down a little bit, it gives me an opportunity and them an opportunity ... and we can make a better decision on the makeup of the [roster]."

With Harper gone, Johnson has a better idea of how his outfield will look. Veteran Jayson Werth will be in right field to start the season. That leaves Rick Ankiel, Roger Bernadina and Carroll fighting for time in center field. Ankiel will return from a left hamstring injury Tuesday when the Nats travel to Port St. Lucie to play the New York Mets.

Starting pitcher Chien-Ming Wang is down with a left hamstring injury suffered last week. The team remains confident he can return by the time it needs a fifth starter April 11. But if not, that's why the Nats didn't rush to trade John Lannan when it became clear they had an excess of starting pitchers. Lannan, scheduled to pitch Wednesday against the Atlanta Braves in Viera, Fla., slides perfectly into that spot.

Most other positions are accounted for -- though Steve Lombardozzi and Andres Blanco are still fighting for an infield utility spot. Even in the bullpen there is at best one spot open. Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, Henry Rodriguez and Brad Lidge are locks to make the team. Ross Detwiler and Tom Gorzelanny likely will serve as long relievers and spot starters. Sean Burnett, a mainstay the last three years, has yet to allow an earned run in six innings this spring.

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

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Brian McNally

Staff writer - sports
The Washington Examiner