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Nationals’ Steve Lombardozzi turns heads at the plate and in the field

Young infielder makes strong push for roster spot

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TAMPA, Fla. — Steve Lombardozzi isn't exactly one for lollygagging on the basepaths. So, when he hit a rocket home run to left field Friday afternoon, CC Sabathia was still watching it fly by the time Lombardozzi was rounding second base.

The Washington Nationals infielder's first home run of the spring was also the first the feared lefty had surrendered — and it was simply the headliner on a banner day for the 23-year-old that also featured two superb plays at third base.

By the time Lombardozzi made it back to the dugout, and two innings before he would cap his 3-for-3 day against the New York Yankees with a single off Phil Hughes, he accepted the congratulations of his manager.

"I asked him, 'What, are you trying to make this club or something?'" manager Davey Johnson said. Lombardozzi, normally a man of few words, just smiled and nodded. "Then, he got another hit."

The Nationals have very few areas of uncertainty remaining as they open their fifth week of spring training, but their bench is still one of them. Lombardozzi, a natural second baseman who also has experience at shortstop, is still not a lock for one of those five spots, but he's about as close as one can get with three weeks left in camp.

Going 2-for-2 off of Sabathia in the Nationals' 4-3, 10-inning loss and looking like a natural at a position he's played precisely four games at — in the minors and the majors combined — is a good way to keep your stock high.

"I'm trying to fight for a spot here," Lombardozzi said later. "So, it was a good day."

Many natural middle infielders have a difficult time making the transition to third base. Everything comes at you faster, your reactions must be quicker, and the desire to dive to your right is ever-present. Veteran infielder Alex Cora described it early in 2011 as "like a cage." But Lombardozzi has transitioned well.

Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman often makes the position look easy, nearly trademarking the barehanded snap play that Nationals fans have come to know well. Lombardozzi did his best tribute to Zimmerman, then, on the first play Friday when speedy Curtis Granderson bounced one to third.

"It took kind of a goofy hop," Lombardozzi said.

But he nabbed it with his right hand and quickly threw over to Mark DeRosa at first. Granderson beat it out, but Lombardozzi followed it up with a second impressive play one inning later.

"It's fun," Lombardozzi said. "I'm learning. I'm picking guys' brains on how to play over there, but the biggest thing for me over there is just to be aggressive on the balls and react."

Johnson came into spring training with the idea that he'd continue to move Lombardozzi's development forward while using him as a valuable piece on his bench. He said Friday that the Columbia, Md., native's performance this spring has done nothing to dissuade him from going that route.

"He's versatile," Johnson said. "He's right in the hunt."

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