JUPITER, Fla. — Nationals manager Davey Johnson drew up his lineup for Tuesday’s game against the Miami Marlins with Steve Lombardozzi hitting eighth and playing left field. It’s the second start for the natural second baseman in the outfield and while it may seem like an indication that Lombardozzi, who the Nationals view as an every day player, could be a primary candidate for that spot if Michael Morse starts the year on the disabled list, not so fast.
“I wouldn’t read into it,” Johnson said. “I consider Lombo an everyday player at second base, infield, but I also want to use the flexibility of putting him in situations where I can give him at-bats. That’s all I’d read into it.
“It’s no secret I like watching Lombo play.”
Lombardozzi has already played second base, shortstop and third this spring before the Nationals shifted him to the outfield late last week for the first time. Johnson even once considered getting him a first baseman’s mitt and essentially maxing out his versatility but it didn’t come to that. Lombardozzi is a strong candidate for a bench spot on this team — relatively close to being a lock — but the one condition of that roster spot is that Johnson has to feel he’ll be able to get Lombardozzi at least 300 at-bats in the major leagues. Finding out now if he could play the outfield is just another outlet for them to be able to do that.
“I’m kind of giving him a crash course in utility,” Johnson said. “It’d be one thing if I was trying to make him a utility player. I’m not. I’m trying to give him experience at different spots for a need that might come up on the team.”
Lombardozzi has worked hard the past few days on learning the outfield, spending time on the backfields with third base coach Bo Porter and sending most of his time during batting practice shagging in left field. Michael Morse is scheduled to begin throwing on Wednesday and the Nationals’ cleanup hitter continues to report he’s feeling good but until then, Johnson will continue to explore his options. Chances are, assuming Rick Ankiel is the team’s starting center fielder, Roger Bernadina or Brett Carroll or the like would get an Opening Day start in left field before Lombardozzi, but it doesn’t hurt to know if he can or cannot handle the position.
“I like what I’m seeing,” Johnson said.
Johnson has given thought to moving around a few other players (he considered handing Jesus Flores a first baseman’s mitt but thought better of it) and noted that he’d have “another option” for us to ponder in tomorrow’s lineup against the Mets in Port St. Lucie. As he was saying that, Brett Carroll, who came up as a third baseman and has made it known he can play anywhere on the field including catcher, was standing at first base taking grounders. So, there’s one guess from this corner that we may see him in the lineup there tomorrow.
Here is the rest of the Nationals’ lineup as they send Gio Gonzalez to the hill in what seems like his home park, Roger Dean Stadium, against the Miami Marlins. Four of Gonzalez’s final five spring starts will come in this park.
Ian Desmond SS
Danny Espinosa 2B
Rick Ankiel CF
Mark DeRosa 3B
Chad Tracy 1B
Jesus Flores C
Roger Bernadina RF
Steve Lombardozzi LF
Gio Gonzalez P