Nationals option Bryce Harper to Triple-A Syracuse

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Nationals manager Davey Johnson told reporters at the start of spring training that he was open to the idea of Bryce Harper earning a spot on the Opening Day roster. But it was a longshot from the start, and any hope of it happening has now been crushed.

According to Mark Zuckerman of CSN Washington’s Nats Insider, Harper has been optioned to Triple-A Syracuse, where he will begin the 2012 regular season and play primarily in center field.

Harper went 8-for-28 with zero homers, two walks and 11 strikeouts this spring in the Grapefruit League. A calf injury cost him over a week of playing time.

The 19-year-old phenom should debut for the Nationals by the middle of this summer, and could be up as early as June if he gets off to a hot start in April and May in the Triple-A International League.

Jonny Venters is still pitching

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Lefty reliever Jonny Venters was among a handful of players the Rays signed to minor league contracts, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Venters, 32, hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2012 and has logged just 27 2/3 innings in the minors in the meantime due to a continuous battle with his elbow. According to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Venters has undergone four — four! — Tommy John surgeries.

When he was healthy, Venters was a fearsome late-game option for the Braves. He posted a 1.95 ERA with 93 strikeouts in 83 innings in 2010, and a 1.84 ERA with 96 strikeouts in 88 innings in 2011. His first-half performance in 2011 earned him a spot on the National League All-Star roster.

Venters has spent the last two years in the Rays’ system and he’ll try to make it a third.