Nathan's strong spring creating tough decisions

Nathan's strong spring creating tough decisions

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The Nationals have a decision to make soon with veteran right-hander Joe Nathan as they approach the date of the opt-out clause in his contract, which is reportedly Friday.

Manager Dusty Baker has been highly impressed with Nathan, who tossed a scoreless inning with a strikeout in Monday's 9-3 loss to the Yankees to lower his Grapefruit League ERA to 3.00. But it is unclear whether that will be enough for Nathan to crack what has become a crowded Nationals bullpen scene.

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"I know they have some tough decisions," Nathan said. "Obviously, they've got a lot of guys who can pitch at this level, so I understand that side of it. So we'll see -- end of this week, I know they've got some decisions to make, so we'll see what happens."

The Nationals never expected Nathan, 42, to come into camp looking like the lockdown closer he was earlier in his career, especially considering he has undergone two Tommy John surgeries. Still, they believed he could be a strong addition to their bullpen with his experience late in games.

Bullpen spots are limited, and Nathan is likely competing with impressive young right-hander Koda Glover, flame-throwing left-hander Enny Romero and long-relief candidates Vance Worley and Jeremy Guthrie for what should be the final two openings.

Nathan has certainly received his opportunities to impress this spring, having appeared in nine games -- the most of any pitcher in camp -- and thrown nine innings.

"When I signed over here, [pitching coach Mike] Maddux definitely said, 'Hey, I'll give you the ball. You're going to get the shot to go out there and prove you're healthy,'" Nathan said. "That's all I can do. As long as I show I'm healthy, show I'm strong and able to go, something good will happen, I'm sure."

Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.