VIERA, Fla. — Luis Ayala was granted his unconditional release by the Nationals today after the veteran reliever was informed he wasn't going to make the Opening Day roster and asked for the opportunity to seek employment elsewhere.
Ayala, 36, was hoping to make the club after signing a minor-league contract last month. The right-hander had his moments early in camp, including a March 1 appearance against the Braves in which he inherited a bases-loaded situation and pitched out of the jam.
But Ayala also was roughed up in two of his six relief outings, allowing four runs against Atlanta on March 4 and then getting tagged by the Tigers for five runs on Monday. His spring ERA ballooned to 13.50 after that game.
Manager Matt Williams expressed some regret today for leaving Ayala in that game Monday after he had already surpassed his pitch count for the afternoon. Williams felt it was appropriate to give Ayala a chance to sign with another club rather than forcing him to accept a demotion to Class AAA Syracuse.
"He's a veteran guy. He knows how to pitch," the manager said. "I don't think Luis, if you asked him, would say that he blows up the radar gun. But he knows how to get people out. We gave him an opportunity to see what's out there."
Ayala, a key member of the original 2005 Nationals who continued to pitch for the club through 2009, said he plans to return to his home in Arizona and hopes another team will be interested in signing him before Opening Day.
"I want to go home and see what happens," he said. "I got six outings, four good ones. We'll see."
Even with Ayala out of the mix, there still remain a host of contenders for the final spot in the Nationals' bullpen, including right-handers Manny Delcarmen, Christian Garcia and Aaron Barrett, lefties Michael Gonzalez and Xavier Cedeno and perhaps whomever loses the battle for the No. 5 starter job between Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan.
Ryan Mattheus (chest) and Ross Ohlendorf (back) are both ready to return from minor injuries, but neither right-hander is likely to be ready for the start of the season.