Luis Ayala, a key member of the Nationals’ inaugural bullpen in 2005, is returning to the organization six years after last pitching for it.
The Nationals have signed Ayala to a minor-league contract with an invitation to big-league spring training, according to a source familiar with the deal.
The 36-year-old right-hander pitched for the Braves and Orioles last season, posting a 3.27 ERA in 39 combined appearances but putting 51 men on base in only 33 innings.
Selected away from the Diamondbacks in the 2002 Rule 5 draft, Ayala debuted for the Expos in 2003 and made 320 appearances for the organization over the next six seasons, the final four after the club relocated to Washington. He was the top setup man in the inaugural 2005 Nationals bullpen but was never the same after blowing out his elbow pitching for Mexico in the 2006 World Baseball Classic, an injury that required Tommy John surgery.
The Nationals traded Ayala to the Mets in 2008, and he has spent the last six years bouncing around the league, pitching for seven different organizations.
Ayala will face a stiff challenge trying to make the Nationals’ Opening Day bullpen. Rafael Soriano, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, Jerry Blevins and Craig Stammen all are locks to head north with the club. That leaves two available spots for a host of pitchers, including Ryan Mattheus, Ross Ohlendorf, Xavier Cedeno, Tanner Roark, Ross Detwiler, Erik Davis, Sammy Solis and fellow non-roster invitees Clay Hensley and Manny Delcarmen.