Steve Lombardozzi Is Ready Whenever Nationals Need Him

Aug. 11, 2012; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Washington Nationals infielder Steve Lombardozzi (1) during a game against Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Hilderbrand-US PRESSWIRE

Washington Nationals' manager Davey Johnson has prepared Steve Lombardozzi all season for the important role he may have to play down the stretch.

Ryan Zimmerman went on the DL with shoulder inflammation after an April 20th game against the Miami Marlins. While he sat, Steve Lombardozzi, who'd played sparingly in the first few weeks, filled in at third base. Though equipped with an arm that's more effective at second, Lombardozzi filled in admirably, playing the next nine games at third base and going 10 for 37, with a .270/.308/.324 line, two doubles, two walks and just one K in 41 plate appearances.

While the Washington Nationals were waiting for Michael Morse's 2012 campaign to start, and they were getting weak production from their left field options, Lombardozzi, who had come up as a [Minor League Gold-Glove winning] second baseman, transitioned to the outfield. Though he hasn't played in the outfield often in the second-half, the 23-year-old, '08 19th Round pick helped out in left until Morse returned and then remained out there when Jayson Werth went down with a broken wrist, making 29 starts and playing in 41 games games total as a left fielder without committing an error.

Nats' shortstop Ian Desmond was dealing with an oblique injury in the weeks leading up to the All-Star Break. The Nats' 26-year-old infielder passed up the opportunity to make his first ASG appearance so that he could rest up over the Break, but when he returned the injury grew worse and Desmond hit the DL after a doubleheader against Atlanta on July 21st and remained out of the lineup until August 17th.

Over the next 25 games, Lombardozzi moved back to second base on a daily basis, posting a .308/.351/.421 line over that stretch, with three doubles, three triples, a home run, six walks and 14 Ks in 114 PAs. Lombardozzi had a .265/.316/.335 line when he started playing regularly at second. By the time Desmond returned to the lineup and Danny Espinosa flipped back over to second, Lombardozzi had .280/.329/.364 line. During the last 10 games before Desmond returned, the Nationals went 8-2 against the Astros, D-Back and Giants with Lombardozzi 17 for 44 over that stretch (.386/.426/.500).

Since that time, however, the first-year infielder's made just six starts. Nats' skipper Davey Johnson saw that coming with Morse back in left, Desmond back to play short and Jayson Werth returning to the lineup on a full-time basis for the first time since late May, telling reporters after Lombardozzi had ended that road trip with a 4 for 5, two double game in AT&T Park, that he would find ways to work him. "I'll find him spots," Johnson told reporters in the post game press conference, "He's been great in the outfield. He's great leading off." With the outfield full, however, and Desmond and Espinosa back in the lineup, the Nats' skipper said Lombardozzi would return to the utility role he'd initially been expected to play when the season started.

"I can play [Lombo] some at third, some at second, just expand the role," Johnson said.

The plan coming into the season, as D.C. GM Mike Rizzo laid it out in Spring Training, was for Lombardozzi to get around 350 ABs in the majors this season. Davey Johnson wanted the infielder on the Opening Day roster, he had hinted at the fact the previous September and nothing Lombardozzi did in Spring Training changed the manager's opinion. Rizzo told reporters he thought Johnson would make it work and get the infielder the at bats he needed so that a bench role wouldn't negatively affect his development. By the time the Nationals finally had their "full" lineup together on the field ( - Wilson Ramos of course), Lombardozzi had 332 ABs.

Since returning to a part time role, Lombo's 8 for 33 (.242/.242/.242) in 17 games. Davey Johnson told reporters two weeks back that one of his few regrets as the Nats have marched toward the first postseason appearance by a D.C.-based team since 1933 has been his inability to find more time in the lineup for Lombardozzi. "Lombo was basically a regular for 75% of the season," Johnson told reporters, "Now that everybody's doing the things that they're capable of doing, it's going to be harder for me to get him the at bats."

The other problem, Johnson joked, was that he had two middle infielders who never wanted to sit. "I've got to fight the two guys up the middle," the Nats' manager explained, "Whenever I say, 'Let me give you a day off,'" Johnson said, the response from his middle infielders was a question or two in return, "'Are you kidding me? Are we trying to win or what?'"

Danny Espinosa, who finished the first-half with a brutal .232/.309/.374 line, 15 doubles and seven home runs in 70 games and 292 PAs, returned to form and justified Davey Johnson's faith in him during the second half. Espinosa posted a .289/.340/.476 line with 13 doubles, a triple and nine home runs over a 57-game, 244 PA stretch from July 13th-September 9th, after which the Nationals left the nation's capital to start a six-game trip through New York and Atlanta in which they completed their season series with each of the Nats' NL East rivals.

Over the six-game trip which concluded last night with the Nationals' third straight loss to the Braves, Espinosa went 1 for 18 with a double, walk and 10 Ks in five games and 19 PAs. Late in the Sunday finale in Atlanta's Turner Field, Davey Johnson told reporters after the game, Espinosa approached hitting coach Rick Eckstein and as MASN's Dan Kolko reported last night, mentioned, " ... that he was underwater and he was hurting the team." It was the second time in a few weeks that a National had taken the same approach. Michael Morse told his manager last week that his left wrist/hand was bothering him and keeping him from helping the team. Morse had an MRI on his wrist which revealed a torn sheath and bone bruise.

Danny Espinosa's the next one headed to see team doctor, Dr. Wiemi Douoguih. The Nats' infielder is scheduled to have an MRI on his shoulder today. Davey Johnson expressed some concern in last night's post game press conference telling reporters including The Washington Times' Amanda Comak that for Espinosa to admit to a problem he has to be in considerable pain. "'For him to want to come out, he's my little iron man,'" Johnson told reporters, "'Hopefully we'll know more tomorrow but he'll probably for sure miss the Dodgers series.'"

Should Espinosa miss significant time, however, the Nationals know they have a capable second baseman in Lombardozzi, though it does weaken the bench and leave them an injury away from a serious issue in the infield. The construction of the roster, however, Johnson told reporters during the last homestand, has been one of the keys to the Nationals' success so far this season.

"We had this year devastating injuries," Johnson said, "and the young players in the system have done an outstanding job in different roles."

"Tyler Moore was a first baseman. He's played in the outfield," the manager continued, "[Steve] Lombardozzi was a second baseman and a good one. He played left field predominantly. And at the same time playing a new position and still being productive." Should the Nationals have to put Lombardozzi back at second for any length of time they know he's more than capable of producing on a regular basis. The infielder started the year as a utility man and as a "sub" as Baseball-Reference.com defines it, Lombardozzi's put up a .333/.400/.389 line.

In 80 games and 355 plate appearances as a starter, the rookie infielder has a .273/.314/.352 line with 14 doubles, three triples and two home runs. The Nationals will be losing some power, but not much more if Espinosa's out for any considerable length of time. Davey Johnson was tasked with finding ABs for Lombardozzi at the start of the season, instead he turned him into a viable option to start at second should the news on Espinosa follow the script of the Nats' injury-filled 2012 season.

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