The Washington Times - March 20, 2012, 06:29PM

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — When Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson wrote Steve Lombardozzi’s name atop the lineup for Tuesday night’s game against the New York Mets, he had to be expecting a few questions. After all, Johnson has maintained throughout the spring that shortstop Ian Desmond is his leadoff hitter and second baseman Danny Espinosa is his No. 2 hitter.

“This is not an audition,” Johnson has told both Desmond and Espinosa. 

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But if Lombardozzi makes the Nationals — and it appears at this point that he has a strong chance to — his role will be such that Johnson anticipates getting him at least 300 at-bats filling in at third base, second base and shortstop. And, as Johnson mentioned for the first time on Tuesday, possibly in the outfield as well.

The idea, of course, is that Lombardozzi has the ability to be an every day player and Johnson would like to get him enough at-bats for him to feel like one, too, but he just doesn’t have an every day spot for him right now. 

When he does play, though, there’s a strong chance that Lombardozzi, a leadoff hitter predominantly during his solid minor league career, will serve in that role for the Nationals.

“I like my guys (at the top of the lineup),” Johnson said. “So I don’t think it’s a big stretch to move them from one-two to two-three. The other options would be to hit Lombo eighth (but) he’s had a remarkable spring and I’m enjoying watching him peak.”

Lombardozzi entered Tuesday night’s action hitting .333 with a .364 on-base percentage and a .467 slugging percentage. In his minor league career, Lombardozzi has never registered an on-base percentage lower than .360 and, as was well documented in 2011, the Nationals OBP atop the lineup has been a weak spot for some time.

Johnson believes Desmond and Espinosa will raise that mark this year, getting on base in front of Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse enough that it should give the offense a boost from where they were last year. And the added bonus, as he sees it, is that both players are capable of driving in runs as well.

“That’s a luxury when you can have a one-two that can drive in runs that can be that kind of talent,” Johnson said. “A lot of times a guy can get on but he has a hard time getting a run in. I may sacrifice a little bit in on-base percentage but over the course of the game there’ll be situations when you bunt a guy over, you’ve got a run producer. As much as I look at on-base percentage I really also look at the fact that they can produce runs.”

In discussing Lombardozzi and the fact that the Nationals do not view him as a traditional utility player, in that he’s still on the upswing as far as his potential goes, Johnson brought up the name of Tampa Bay’s Ben Zobrist, who he coached with Team USA Baseball a few years back.

In 2009, Zobrist was an All_Star and finished eighth in the MVP voting while playing every single position on the field for the Rays except pitcher and catcher and hit .297 with a .405 on-base percentage.

The Nationals have thought very highly of Lombardozzi for some time and it appears that he’s only emphasized that thinking this spring.

“He’s a proven everyday player,” Johnson said. “I’m using him in a little different situation than what he’s used to… (But I told him) ‘I look at you as an everyday player but on this ballclub I’ve got some guys I like a lot so I’m going to play you around. I’m not trying to make a utility player out of you but I think you’re a heck of a ballplayer.’”