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Washington Nationals' Lineup Questions: Steve Lombardozzi, Danny Espinosa... Rick Ankiel?


"'My primary lineup is Lombo leading off,'" Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore quoted Nationals' manager Davey Johnson saying yesterday in an article entitled, "Steve Lombardozzi becoming a leading man for the Nationals." "Lombo" is, of course, 23-year-old Nats' utility man Steve Lombardozzi, who so far this year has a .313/.376/.384 line with seven doubles, seven walks and six K's in 37 games and 112 plate appearances, over which he's been worth +0.7 fWAR. Lombardozzi got a start at second last night in the second game of three with the Marlins in Miami, but he's seen most of his playing time in left field recently. With injured outfielder and big middle-of-the-order bat Michael Morse coming back, however, and with the WaPost's Mr. Kilgore writing that, "... Johnson has no plans to cut into [Danny] Espinosa’s playing time," some have started to wonder just where Lombardozzi will be playing when Morse returns to the lineup sometime in the next week... if all goes as planned with his rehab?

The Nats' 69-year-old skipper told the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore this morning, in another article on the Nats' second baseman's struggles entitled, "Davey Johnson wants Danny Espinosa to change his approach", that he, "... continues to believe the Nationals’ best lineup contains Espinosa," though as the title hints, Johnson says Espinosa needs to break some of the bad habits that have left him with a .213/.306/.349 line, eight doubles and five home runs after 48 games and 195 plate appearances in which he's collected the league's 4th highest K total with 59, behind only free swinging players like Adam Dunn, Carlos Pena and Rickie Weeks.

So if Lombardozzi's Davey Johnson's leadoff man, and Danny Espinosa's his second baseman, it might be Rick Ankiel who's out of a starting spot once Michael Morse and his bat return to the lineup. The WaPost's Mr. Kilgore suggested as much in yesterday's article, speculating that the Nationals might go with a Lombo, Bryce Harper, Michael Morse outfield from left-to-right if and when Morse returns, and Nats' GM Mike Rizzo said the same this morning in his weekly spot on 106.7 the FAN's The Mike Rizzo Show with Holden Kushner and Danny Rouhier.

"I think that Lombo being a very versatile, flexible player, can play mulitiple positions," the Nationals' general manager explained, "and we like him in the leadoff spot, he's a good hitter, good on base percentage guy. He's played left field extremely well, surprisingly well for a guy who was never put out there before this Spring Training. So, I probably foresee [Lombardozzi] staying in left field and Mike Morse has had more games under his belt in the big leagues as a right fielder than a left fielder, so possibly [Morse] playing right and Bryce in center. And Davey can mix-and-match depending on who's pitching and depending on the kind of workload we want to put on Morse early on."

Rick Ankiel is that odd man out (4th OF) in this scenario. The left-handed hitting center fielder has a .232/.284/.400 line on the year after last night's game, with eight doubles, two triples and three home runs in 40 games and 134 plate appearances, over which he's struck out 42 times and been worth +0.2 fWAR. The eventual return of Jayson Werth only crowds the Nationals' outfield even further and at that point Nats' skipper Davey Johnson might have to make a decision about his infielders, but with all the injuries the Nationals have dealt with this year, and Werth still weeks away from returning the manager would likely dismiss such discussions as good conversations to have down the road. Even talk of making room for Morse is premature.

The Nationals' manager has to figure out a way to beat the Marlins' Josh Johnson tonight and avoid getting swept in the final game of the Nats' nine-game tour of their NL East rival's homes. One more with the Marlins tonight, we'll post the lineup when it's announced.