The Nationals are enjoying a number of new luxuries this Spring Training that the organization has never experienced to this point in its existence. The young, talented rotation may be the main component lending to heightened expectations, but there is a subtler, more under-the-radar quality to this team that may prove crucial over the course of the 162-game regular season grind: depth. There is veteran depth in the bullpen, thanks to the addition of Brad Lidge, and in the lineup with the versatile Mark DeRosa. But another player in the DeRosa mold, one with great versatility and a solid bat, who could make a big difference for the 2012 Nationals, is infielder Steve Lombardozzi.
Danny Espinosa and Ian Desmond give the Nationals solid, everyday players at both positions up the middle. But Lombardozzi’s ability to play defensively at each spot (and even spell Ryan Zimmerman at third on the occasional day off) makes him a viable option in that third middle infielder role. The Nationals have had a handful of players fill that role over the past few years (Alex Cora, Alberto Gonzalez, Felipe Lopez), but none have brought the offensive promise that Lombardozzi has displayed lately.
After a slow start, Lombardozzi’s bat has heated up as of late, and he put together his most impressive performance of the spring on Friday, going 3-for-3 with a solo shot off CC Sabathia in Washington’s contest against the Yankees in Tampa. He is now batting .333 in the Grapefruit League, a notable improvement off the .194 he batted in his first 31 Major League at-bats last season.
“It’s not just my on-base percentage, I need to do everything well,” explained Lombardozzi. “But I take pride in getting on base and getting things going as a table-setter.”
Of course, for those who have followed Lombardozzi’s Minor League career, his recent success should come as no surprise. The son of the former big league infielder of the same name, he has batted .298 with a .369 on-base percentage over his four-year Minor League career. He’s coming off a 2011 year that saw him set career highs in batting average (.309) and home runs (eight), and set a new high with 30 stolen bases while being caught just eight times (78.9% success rate). With the Nationals looking for high on-base percentage players in front of the powerful bats in the middle of the lineup, Lombardozzi’s ability to do just that could earn him one of the final spots on the 25-man roster.
“I’m very excited to be in big league camp and try to win a job out of spring,” he said. “I think the future of this team is real bright.”
As for the game today, Gio Gonzalez looked solid again, allowing his first run of the spring, but fanning six in just 3.1 innings of work, leaving with a 3-1 lead. The Yankees would eventually win in 10 innings, but not before Sean Burnett, Ryan Perry and Tyler Clippard each contributed a scoreless inning of relief. Washington returns home to Space Coast Stadium for a pair of games this weekend, beginning with the Marlins on Saturday.
Here are the Nationals results to date:
vs. Georgetown (exhibition) – W, 3-0
@ Houston – L, 3-1
vs. Houston – L, 10-2
@ New York (NL) – W, 3-1
@ Atlanta – W, 5-2
vs. St. Louis – T, 3-3
vs. Houston – W, 8-0
@ Miami – L, 3-0
vs. New York (NL) – W, 8-2
@ Detroit – T, 5-5
@ St. Louis – Canceled (rain)
vs. St. Louis – W, 8-4
vs. Detroit – L, 6-3
@ Atlanta – L, 6-5
vs. New York (AL) – L, 8-5
@ New York (AL) – L, 4-3 (10)
Overall Record: 5-7-2