Washington Nationals: Roster hopefuls impressing early

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The Washington Nationals’ roster appears to be nearly set, but several roster hopefuls are off to great starts this spring. Could any of them make the Opening Day roster?

Entering spring training, the Washington Nationals‘ roster appeared complete. There would be a few competitions, most notably for the roles of backup catcher and fifth starter, but open roster spots were few and far between. After all, most of the team is returning from last year, when the Nats won 97 games.

However, a few roster hopefuls could potentially make things interesting down the stretch.

One of the most impressive players this spring has been non-roster invitee Tommy Milone. Although A.J. Cole is the clear frontrunner, Milone is competing for the final spot in the rotation.

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Milone got the nod in the spring opener against the Houston Astros last Friday, when he only allowed one hit with three strikeouts in two innings. He made his second spring appearance on Tuesday, this time in relief, and impressed once again.

Against the Miami Marlins, Milone pitched two perfect innings with another three strikeouts. If he is able to keep this up, he could push Cole for the rotation spot or possibly fill a long relief role in the bullpen.

If nothing else, Milone can earn a spot on the short list to be promoted in the event of an injury.

In addition to Milone, Victor Robles has lit up the Grapefruit League. He went 1-for-1 with a double, walk, and diving catch in the spring opener, which was just the beginning of his impressive start.

Robles has recorded four hits in his first 10 at-bats this spring, as well as recording a stolen base. It is still early and these games do not count, but he is showcasing all five of his tools.

The final roster hopeful that’s off to a solid start is reliever Wander Suero. The 26-year-old dominated in his first outing, striking out the side in the spring opener. He has pitched once more since then, working around a hit and a walk in a scoreless frame on Tuesday.

With Koda Glover likely to miss the start of the season, Suero could sneak into the Opening Day bullpen with a strong spring.

Finally, a couple major leaguers coming off of dismal seasons have enjoyed excellent starts this spring.

Shawn Kelley had the worst season of his career in 2017, pitching to a 7.27 ERA in 33 appearances. He was a shell of his former self, but he was pitching hurt for most of the season. Kelley received a stem cell injection in his elbow this offseason, and the early returns are promising.

In his only spring outing so far, Kelley made quick work of the Atlanta Braves. The right-hander retired the side on only seven pitches, six of which were strikes. His fastball sat in the low-90s, which complemented his heavy-breaking slider.

For the first time since 2016, Kelley looked like himself. If he can keep this up and stay healthy, he will have a terrific bounce-back campaign.

Like Kelley, Matt Wieters had the worst season of his career in 2017. He hit just .225 despite a hot start, and was an absolute nightmare in the postseason.

Wieters felt that he would benefit from a slimmer figure, so he lost 15 pounds this offseason. It is still very early, but he is looking better already.

In Wieters’ first game of the spring, he went 2-for-2 with a homer, two RBI, and two runs scored. He could not have possibly asked for a better start.

Between Wieters’ weight loss and work with new hitting coach Kevin Long, he could return to form in 2018. This would be huge for the Nats, especially considering their horrific catching tandem from a year ago.

Spring training is a time of optimism. Baseball is finally back, the weather is nice (at least in Florida and Arizona), and Opening Day is on the horizon. It can be easy to get overly excited about strong showings, but everyone must remember that these games are meaningless.

Next: Dave Martinez already making an impact

That being said, several roster hopefuls have gotten off to great starts. If they are able to keep this up, the Nats could have some difficult decisions to make next month.

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