March 10, 2011; Lakeland, FL, USA; Detroit Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge (15) is forced out by Washington Nationals second baseman Stephen Lombardozzi (1) on a Miguel Cabrera (not pictured) grounder during the bottom of the fifth inning of a spring training game at Joker Marchant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE
In back-to-back games against the New York Yankees last week, 23-year-old Washington Nationals' shortstop Steve Lombardozzi was a combined 5 for 5 with 3 runs scored, a HR, 2 RBI's and a stolen base. So far this Spring, the '08 19th Round pick, (who was a Minor League Gold Glove winner at second last year with a .309/.360/.430 line between Double and Triple-A in the Nats' system before a September call-up), is 10 for 30 (.333/.364/.476) with a double, a HR, two walks and three K's in 13 games. When Yankees' skipper Joe Girardi joined the YES broadcast in the fifth inning of the second of the two games, Lombardozzi had already singled and hit a line drive HR to left off NY left-hander CC Sabathia. As Lombardozzi faced right-hander Phil Hughes, New York's manager offered his thoughts on the young Nats' infielder. "He's killing us," Girardi said, "He killed us yesterday too."
"It seems that we can get to two strikes on him," Girardi joked, "It's that third one that has given us a little trouble." As they talked, the potential Nats' utility man ripped a sharp inside-out grounder to short off Phil Hughes that Yankees's infielder Doug Bernier could only knock down. The infield single left Lombardozzi 3 for 3 on the day against two pitchers who'll be a part of New York's major league rotation. "Now, is this Lombardozzi kid someone I'm going to have to worry about for a long time?" Girardi asked, impressed by what he saw, "Is he young?" When the manager (who did recognize Lombardozzi as the son of former major leaguer Steve Lombardozzi, Sr.) was told that the young Nationals' infielder was only 23, and had hit over .300 at two levels of the Nats' system last season, Girardi added, taking a mental note, "He's a kid that maybe we see during the course of the season this year when we play the Nationals."
When Nats' skipper Davey Johnson was asked about Lombardozzi's performance this Spring after that particular game, in which Lombardozzi had also made a Zimmerman-esque diving play and throw at third, the manager told reporters, as quoted by the Washington Examiner's Brian McNally in an article entitled, "Lombardozzi states his case", that it was nothing new and not a surprise to him, but a sign of where the fourth-year pro was in his development. As the Washington Examiner's Mr. McNally noted, at the start of Spring Training Johnson was considering ways to get the infielder enough AB's in the majors to justify keeping him on the 25-man roster, and as he explained he'd apparently thought Lombardozzi was ready for the majors since seeing him play last season.
"I'm very comfortable with the guys that we have up the middle," Davey Johnson had said when he spoke to reporters about what role Lombardozzi might play last September, "As far as I'm concerned, could [Lombardozzi] be an every day second baseman? Yeah, [but] could he fill a utility role? That's what he's up here to see." Asked by ESPN980's Kevin Sheehan and Thom Loverro this winter if he thought the Nats would fill holes on their roster through free agency or trades, Johnson advocated filling holes from within. "As far as I'm concerned, I think the parts that we have in the system are there," Johnson said, "Maybe utilizing them on the major league level may be a little bit of a rush, but [at] this day and time, I always like to see guys come from within the system, they've earned the right to compete at the major league level and they have the talent."
"Was he talking about Lombardozzi? Chris Marrero?" we wondered at the time. Johnson may have provided a definitive answer recently. "'The only thing that changes a little bit since September when I talked to you about [Lombardozzi]," Johnson told the Examiner's Mr. McNally, "I had [first baseman Chris] Marrero, too, and both of them pretty much having to lose a job. We’ve added [veteran infielder/outfielder Mark] DeRosa, [who] puts a little more dimension in that he can do a lot of things that Lombo can do. Versatile. He’s right in the hunt.'"
"If the Nationals didn’t think so highly of Lombardozzi, the decision facing them would be a slam-dunk," and Lombardozzi would make the team in a utility role and see time at second, short and third Washington Post writer Dave Sheinin wrote this week in an article entitled, "There's a good reason why Steve Lombardozzi looks like a big leaguer." "But since they do," think so highly of Lombardozzi, Mr. Sheinin continued, "the calculus is a little more complex,":
"The Nationals believe 300 is the magic number: If Manager Davey Johnson can get him that many at-bats in the big leagues in 2012 — starting, say, once a week at second, shortstop and third in place of (respectively) Danny Espinosa, Ian Desmond and Ryan Zimmerman — the team is inclined to keep Lombardozzi on the roster. If not, he would go to Class AAA as the everyday second baseman."
The Nats' GM tells the WaPost writer in the article that he thinks Lombardozzi looks, "Like a big leaguer," and he says he trusts Davey Johnson to figure out a way to get Lombardozzi the at bats he needs for it to make sense to keep him on the major league roster. Steve Lombardozzi, Sr. says he thinks his son is ready for the majors. Davey Johnson is impressed. Joe Girardi is impressed. There's little doubt about which two infielders are going to start the season at short and second for the Nationals. The jobs are Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa's to lose. With the way Lombardozzi's played up to this point, however, there might be some question in people's minds about who'll end the season up the middle in the Nats' infield? What's Lombardozzi's ceiling? Is he a future utility infielder? A starter at second in the majors? The 23-year-old, Fulton, Maryland-born infielder might get a chance to find out this season.