Nationals finalize 25-man roster

Nationals finalize 25-man Opening Day roster

VIERA, Fla. -- The Nationals have their Opening Day roster set as they made their final cuts on Thursday morning. Washington gave outfielder Michael Tucker his unconditional release, while catcher Alberto Castillo and reliever Kevin Gryboski were reassigned to Minor League camp.

Reliever Travis Hughes, who was out of Minor League options, was placed on waivers and wasn't claimed by any of the 29 teams in the big leagues. He was then outrighted to Triple-A New Orleans.

The Nationals also announced that first baseman Daryle Ward and catcher Wiki Gonzalez will be on the 25-man roster.

Tucker, 34, was competing against Ward, 30, for the final spot on the bench. Ward clearly outperformed Tucker, who often looked overmatched this spring, having struck out 15 times in 38 at-bats. He also looked slow in the outfield.

The Nationals tried to trade Tucker before releasing him. The Braves had interest in Tucker, according to a baseball source, but the two parties never came close to a deal.

According to manager Frank Robinson, Tucker took the news very well and figured out he was not in the team's plans by Wednesday. After receiving the news, Tucker was spotted hugging his former teammates and saying goodbye. He did not talk to local media.

"He took it like veteran," Robinson said. "He understands how this game works. He took it very well sitting here."

Ward was a long shot to make the team, but he impressed management by hitting .277 with four home runs and seven RBIs.

"I knew my chances were slim, but when you play baseball, you have to have a little bit of hope to keep you alive," Ward said. "My mom and dad [Former Major Leaguer Gary Ward] believed in me. Having the support of your family helps a lot. It helps you concentrate on trying to make the team. I always knew there was a slight chance. There was a dot of light at the end of the tunnel. I kept my eyes on it and it worked out."

Robinson has always been a fan of Ward's. In 2004, Robinson tried to convince then-general manager Omar Minaya to sign the left-handed hitter, but Minaya didn't have any interest. Robinson now will rely on Ward to come off the bench when he needs a home run.

"He had a good spring" Robinson said. "He hit the ball hard consistently. We had a decision to make on who we wanted to carry. If we took Tucker, a veteran guy, we had hoped he would get it going during the course of the season. But we did have a choice, and we made an excellent choice."

Castillo and Gonzalez were battling to be Brian Schneider's backup catcher. The Nationals' think tank -- which includes GM Jim Bowden, Robinson and his coaching staff -- was split between the two catchers. Some wanted Gonzalez because of his bat, while others preferred Castillo because of the way he calls a game.

But the pendulum swung toward Gonzalez because he was in training camp all spring and he had success with the bat. Castillo, on the other hand, spent two weeks at the World Baseball Classic.

"Castillo has not been here for any length of time. ... Wiki Gonzalez has been getting his at-bats on a regular-type basis. He hit the ball hard and he showed some offensive promise. That's the reason we went with him," Robinson said. "There's not much difference between the two as far the catching and throwing is concern. We wanted to reward Gonzalez for the spring that he had. He was here the entire spring and went about his job."

Gonzalez also had a chance to go to the Classic and represent Venezuela, but felt that it was important to make the Nationals' 25-man squad.

"I would have loved to go to the Classic, but my friends understood. It wasn't like I was going to go over there and play every day," Gonzalez said. "I thought it paid to stay with the Nationals because I want to get my opportunity. If anything happened, it happened. I made the team and I thank the organization for giving me the chance to compete."

Both Gryboski and Hughes impressed the Nationals this spring, but the bullpen was already set with Chad Cordero, Gary Majewski, Felix Rodriguez, Joey Eischen, Mike Stanton and Jon Rauch.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.