VIERA, Fla. -- Ever in search of a left-handed specialist who could help them at some point this season, the Nationals have signed veteran reliever J.C. Romero to a minor-league contract with an invitation to big-league camp.
Romero will be in uniform tomorrow and pitch against the Mets in Port St. Lucie, but general manager Mike Rizzo made it clear the 36-year-old won't make the Opening Day roster.
"I don't feel that's realistic," Rizzo said. "It's been conveyed to him that we don't feel it's realistic. He'll go to the minor leagues and perform down there, and if he can help us down the road, we'll go grab him."
Rizzo likened Romero's signing to last year's acquisition of Michael Gonzalez, who spent a month at Class AAA Syracuse and then became a key member of the Nationals' bullpen straight through the postseason.
A veteran of 14 big-league seasons, Romero owns a career 4.16 ERA in 680 appearances. He hasn't spent a full season in the majors since 2010 and has pitched for seven different organizations over the last two years alone, including the Nationals (he appeared in five games for Class AAA Syracuse in 2011).
Romero, though, impressed this month during the World Baseball Classic, posting a 3.86 ERA and recording one save in five games for Puerto Rico, convincing Nationals scouts he was worth signing.
"His velocity was up, and his stuff looked good and he had played with several of these guys and they liked him," Rizzo said. "So we felt it was a very low-risk, [high-]reward type of thing."
Though Romero could join the big-league roster at some point this season, the Nationals are prepared to open the year with no left-handed specialist in their bullpen. Both Rizzo and manager Davey Johnson said this morning they're comfortable with their seven-man unit as currently constituted: right-handers Rafael Soriano, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, Ryan Mattheus, Craig Stammen and Henry Rodriguez, plus left-handed long reliever Zach Duke.
Rizzo insisted there was no concerted effort this spring to add another lefty.
"We didn't change our scouting patterns," he said. "We didn't lock in on one person or one position. It wasn't like we were scouring for every left-handed reliever we could find. We just scouted the normal way we scout, and J.C. pitched well."