The Washington Times - March 31, 2012, 11:31AM

VIERA, Fla. — To this point in the spring, the Washington Nationals have been non-commital when it comes to infielder Steve Lombardozzi and whether or not he’s a lock for the team’s 25-man roster. His play has made the decision on whether he’s a bona-fide major leaguer an easy one. That, they feel he is.

The question for him remains whether or not Nationals manager Davey Johnson feels he could get the adequate number of at-bats (around 300 or more) in the major leagues to not hinder his further development. 


And so even as the Nationals have seemingly eliminated much of the competition for Lombardozzi’s spot, when the question of whether he’s made this team has come up, the answer has generally been, “not yet.”

But Johnson may have given the first concrete indication that the odds of Lombardozzi not making the team are relatively slim when he was asked Saturday morning about his lineup, which featured Danny Espinosa playing shortstop. Johnson has played Espinosa there a handful of times this spring and he’s been very clear that it’s only a contingency plan for the team if starting shortstop Ian Desmond is lost to a long-term injury. Espinosa, a natural shortstop, would be the long-term fill-in there in that case.

So the question was posed to Johnson this way: “So if it was just for one day during the season you wouldn’t put Espinosa at short?”

Johnson’s response: “No, I’d put Lombo there.”

“You mean, if he makes the club?” one reporter reminded Johnson.

Johnson smiled, laughed and sort-of relented. “You guys are sneaky,” he said. 

If Lombardozzi’s spot is indeed in jeopardy, it would appear that only Chad Tracy could affect Lombardozzi’s status. The Nationals simply don’t seem to have room for Tracy. He’s primarily a first baseman though he has the ability to play third and, perhaps left field, but he’s also left-handed and the Nationals already have enough left-handed outfielders as well as a left-handed starting first baseman. 

Tracy has gotten the second-most at-bats of anyone on the team (behind only leadoff man Ian Desmond) and he’s hit .238 with a .286 on-base percentage. The Nationals were aware that he’d have to spend some time getting his legs back under him after what was basically a lost 2011 and that’s part of the reason Tracy does not have an opt-out in his minor league contract. 

“I really hadn’t thought about letting him go,” Johnson said Saturday. “I like what he has brought to the club this year. I like a guy who has experience, left-handed bat off the bench… I do like him and it would be very difficult.”

The need to get Lombardozzi a requisite number of at-bats may be a concern for the Nationals but if they’re trying to build the best team possible right now, it certainly seems as if Lombardozzi is the best option out of the gate for them.

– There’s nothing official yet, but the Nationals are expecting outfielder Jason Michaels to return to the organization. Michaels was released by the team on Thursday.

– Infielder Andres Blanco opted out of his minor league deal with the Nationals Friday night, as GM Mike Rizzo said he was leaning toward doing on Friday, and the Philadelphia Phillies scooped him up Saturday morning — as Johnson suggested they might when the team cut him Thursday.

Blanco joins a host of former Nationals on the Phillies as they already have Pete Orr and Michael Martinez. The Nationals have former Phillies Jayson Werth, Brad Lidge, and, for now, Chad Durbin. Michaels was also a former Phillie.

– Roger Bernadina was in the Nationals’ original lineup for Saturday but he was not scheduled to arrive in Miami until 10:30 Saturday morning, returning from Curacao for his father’s funeral, so Corey Brown got the start there instead.