Nats GM won't say why Jeffress was cut, but not for on-field

Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo declined to specify Monday why Jeremy Jeffress was released from a minor league contract by the team, saying only that he considered it an “employment issue” and acknowledging it was not related to the reliever’s baseball performance.

“We’re just going to stand by the statement I made yesterday. It’s a ‘personnel matter’,” Rizzo said in a video conference with reporters a day after the team cut ties with Jeffress, a 2018 NL All-Star for the Brewers who was with the Cubs last season. “We’re not going to discuss it any further, per our policy on personnel matters, and we’re just going to keep it at that.”

Asked to define the term he used in relation to the move, Rizzo responded, “A ‘personnel reason’ is an employment issue.”

After Washington announced his release Sunday, Jeffress tweeted: “I’m not what they say I am, I’m what God says! I don’t deserve this false negativity!”

Manager Dave Martinez wouldn’t comment on Jeffress at all.

“I’m really not inclined to talk about it,” Martinez said.

Other topics addressed by Washington’s GM or manager before the club hosted the New York Mets in an exhibition game Monday:

— Pitcher Jon Lester is back in camp after surgery to remove his thyroid gland on Friday in New York. “He’s sore around where the incision is, so we’re going to take it slow. But we’re going to actually ramp him up,” Martinez said.

— 2019 World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg is scheduled to start Tuesday against the Astros and throw 30 to 35 pitches in his first appearance since he was shut down in August and had carpal tunnel surgery on his right wrist. Strasburg only threw five innings in 2020. “We just got to keep an eye on him, make sure … that (he) doesn’t do too much,” Martinez said. “So for me, it’s just about watching his innings and building him up to where we feel like when we leave spring training, he’s up to about 85, 90 pitches.”

— Rizzo said he and the team’s owners are “in the midst of making decisions on what a time frame would look like” with long-term contracts for right fielder Juan Soto and shortstop Trea Turner. “We certainly have made, and will make, a long-term extension offer to both players some time in the near future,” the GM said.

— Washington “probably would not consider” using a six-man rotation to begin the season, Rizzo said. “There’s going to be some creative ways to get these starters through games early on in the season until they’re really comfortable and really built up,” he said.

— Reliever Tanner Rainey was scheduled to throw a bullpen session of about 20 pitches on Monday; he has been dealing with a muscle issue near his collarbone. Rizzo and Martinez expect Rainey to be ready for opening day.

— The D.C. government said last week it has not approved spectators at Nationals Park, but Rizzo said he’s optimistic a solution can be worked out.

— The team’s alternate site again will be at Fredericksburg, Virginia.

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