VIERA, Fla. — The Washington Nationals will depart in a few hours for Port St. Lucie where Stephen Strasburg will make his fourth start of the spring — and he will become the first Nationals pitcher to hit for himself this spring.
He’ll do so with Rick Ankiel returning to the lineup behind him in center field, the first game Ankiel’s played in since Strasburg’s second start, a night game in Jupiter on March 11. The quad tightness that Ankiel dealt with in the days since then has finally dissipated and his chance to seize the Nationals’ starting center field job has never been greater.
The other item of note in the Nationals’ lineup is that Steve Lombardozzi will hit leadoff tonight — the first game that shortstop Ian Desmond has played in and not hit leadoff. Lombardozzi was a leadoff hitter predominantly in the minor leagues and his on-base percentage in the minors was never below .360.
Nationals manager Davey Johnson reiterated on Sunday morning that none of his regulars are auditioning for jobs and that includes Desmond’s position atop the lineup. Johnson believes in Desmond’s talent and is willing to let him go out there and express it, as he often says.
So we’ll find out more about this move when we talk to Johnson in St. Lucie later today but it could be an indication that when Lombardozzi plays — and if he’s on their bench Johnson expects to get him at least 300 at-bats — he’ll hit leadoff.
Here is the rest of the Nationals lineup:
Steve Lombardozzi 3B
Ian Desmond SS
Danny Espinosa 2B
Mark DeRosa 1B
Wilson Ramos C
Rick Ankiel CF
Brett Carroll LF
Roger Bernadina RF
Stephen Strasburg P
Chad Tracy, Andres Blanco, Carlos Maldonado and Jason Michaels will make the trip along with minor leaguers Carlos Rivero, Corey Brown, Josh Johnson, Stephen King and David Freitas.
Atahualpa Severino, Craig Stammen, Ryan Mattheus and Henry Rodriguez will be the Nationals’ relief tonight.