Fulton, Maryland-born, 23-year-old '08 19th Round pick Steve Lombardozzi's four-hit game against the Astros last night left him 6 for 12 on the year with a double, two walks and a K in six games, earned him a Gatorade bath (courtesy of Jayson Werth) and won him the praise of his manager, Davey Johnson. Johnson didn't seem surprised by what he'd seen, answering matter-of-factly when asked for his thoughts on the young infielder, "He's a good player. Had a heck of a night," but, the manager added, guessing at the subtext of the question, "As much as I like him, [Danny Espinosa] is my second baseman, if that's where you're going."
The talk all winter on Nats boards and in threads around NatsTown was about moving Ian Desmond out of his starting role at short after his .253/.298/.358, 27 double, eight HR 2011 season, with Espinosa switching to short, where he'd played in college and the minors, so that Lombardozzi, the top infield prospect in the organization and a 2011 MiLB Gold Glover winner, could play second at the major league level after four seasons in the Nats' system in which he compiled a .298/.369/.411 line and last year played near-flawless defense while posting a .309/.360/.430 season at Double and Triple-A before he made his MLB debut last September.
After Lombardozzi's start last night, (with the 24-year-old Espinosa getting a "mental break" as Johnson explained to reporters before the game), his performance this Spring in Florida where Lombardozzi had a .313/.333/.388 line with two doubles, a home run, three walks and 10 K's in 28 games and 67 at bats (while Espinosa had a .241/.302/.342 line with two doubles, two home runs, seven walks and 26 K's in 24 games and 79 at bats) and Lombardozzi's performance so far this season, (combined with Ian Desmond's hot start, which has the Nats' 26-year-old shortstop at .346/.382/.481 with four doubles, a home run, three walks and eight K's in 11 games and 55 at bats and Espinosa's early struggles: 194/.333/.278, one home run, eight walks, 10 K's), it's Espinosa whose job should be up-for-grabs in some people's minds.
Davey Johnson said last night he liked the role Lombardozzi is playing on the team now and how the young infielder has reacted to the challenge of part-time play at the major league level. "I like in him, the way he's a good two-strike hitter. He knows the strike zone, makes the pitchers throw the ball over," Johnson explained, "He's a little more aggressive in this role, which is good, because it's harder to take a lot of pitches and then be a really good two-strike hitter. So, I'm glad to see he's more aggressive at home plate. But he reminds me of [Ben] Zobrist, is a good two-strike hitter, gets a lot of walks, has a good idea on the strike zone."
The Nats' skipper said last year that Lombardozzi was up in the majors to see if he could play a utility role since the infield situation at the major league level was settled with Desmond and Espinosa at short and second, respectively, and Johnson said last night he was impressed with what Lombardozzi was able to do after he was called up last September. "It's pretty tough, coming up and sitting on the bench and then playing once in a while toward the end like he did," the 69-year-old skipper said, "And then playing different positions. And then he started off kind of miserable, I think he was like 1 for 12 or 0 or 12, but he battled back and got some key hits, but, he's a good everyday player."
Would Lombardozzi's 4 for 5 night at the plate against Houston lead the manager to find a way to work him into tonight's lineup? "No," Johnson said, "I mean, [Jesus Flores] went 3 for 3 or 4, I think I had Ramos catching the next game. You need that kind of production off the bench. And you love to see it." The Nats' manager's committed to and sticking with Espi and Desmond up the middle of the infield.
Espinosa sat last night because, Davey Johnson said, as quoted by the Washington Times' Amanda Comak in an article entitled, "Danny Espinosa gets a day off and Ryan Zimmerman might soon, too", he saw his second baseman, "'mentally pressing a little bit.'" Espinosa enters play tonight, assuming he does start, with three hits, three walks and three K's in his the first four games and 21 plate appearances of the season's first homestand. Ian Desmond told MLB.com's Bill Ladson yesterday, as quoted in an article entitled, "Desmond credits Johnson for fast start", that he credits his manager's support with his early success:
""It's nice to know that if I go 0-for-5, I'm not going to come in the next day and need a break," Desmond said. "Davey understands that you don't have to come out and have success every single day. It's nice to have the support of the manager."
Maybe Davey Johnson's vote of confidence in Espinosa last night will inspire his second baseman as well?