- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 27, 2012

JUPITER, Fla. — With Opening Day drawing near, Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson has reached the point of spring training where he’s making sure he’s exhausted all options while whittling the roster to 25.

Question marks surround the health of left fielder Michael Morse (lat strain), closer Drew Storen (elbow-joint inflammation), starter Chien-Ming Wang (hamstring strain) and, perhaps to a lesser extent, first baseman Adam LaRoche (foot bone bruise). So Johnson has been running through his contingency plans.

Use Brad Lidge and Henry Rodriguez in save situations? Check. Put Steve Lombardozzi in left field? Sure. Get Chad Tracy 56 at-bats and a slew of playing time at first base? He’s done that.

Give catcher Jesus Flores a first baseman’s mitt?

“No,” Johnson said. “I mean, it did cross my mind at about 3 in the morning.”

Seeing Lombardozzi in left field, as he was Tuesday during the Nationals’ 3-1 loss to the Marlins, certainly is more likely than the backup catcher shedding his gear for a corner infield spot.

It was the second start for the natural second baseman in the outfield. While it may seem like an indication that Lombardozzi — who the Nationals view as an everyday player — could be a primary candidate for left field if 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 already had played second base, shortstop and third this spring before being shifted to the outfield for the first time last week. Johnson even considered getting him a first baseman’s mitt as well and essentially maxing out his versatility, but it didn’t come to that. Lombardozzi, who played left for four innings Tuesday, is a strong candidate for a bench spot, but the one condition is that Johnson has to feel he’ll be able to get Lombardozzi at least 300 at-bats in the majors. Finding out now if he could play the outfield is another outlet for them to be able to do that.

“I’m kind of giving him a crash course in utility,” Johnson said, though noting Tuesday likely would be Lombardozzi’s final start in the outfield. “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.”

The early observations have been good. Third base coach Bo Porter, who works with the outfielders, said after Lombardozzi’s first appearance in the outfield that he already was “comfortable” with him out there. Lombardozzi was the victim of inexperience Tuesday when a double to the left-field corner scooted past him and turned into three bases for Marlins shortstop Jose Reyes.

Gonzalez settles in after rocky first

Left-hander Gio Gonzalez was tagged for eight runs on 10 hits and four walks in his previous start, five days ago. A little spring training dead arm, the team called it, and brushed it off as nothing more.

It was the opposite when Gonzalez gave up three runs to the Marlins on Tuesday. “Overthrowing,” Johnson said. But a word from infielder Mark DeRosa and pitching coach Steve McCatty helped Gonzalez settle in and start a run of four scoreless innings. He allowed seven hits and a walk with six strikeouts.

“[DeRosa] said, ‘Hey, you’re rushing a little bit, you’re flying open,’ ” Gonzalez said. “After that I settled in, stayed back, kept my shoulders in and just felt like I was more on top of the ball. … I’m glad that I settled down and stopped the bleeding immediately.”

Gonzalez will make one more start this spring, in Jupiter on Sunday. Ultimately, five of his seven spring starts will come at Roger Dean Stadium.

Injury updates

• LaRoche played in a minor league game Tuesday and was allowed to run the bases. The Nationals are hoping he’ll be cleared to return to major league games by Thursday.

• Storen began a throwing program Tuesday, starting the process of rebuilding his arm after missing most of the spring with inflammation in his elbow joint as well as strep throat.

• Morse is scheduled to begin throwing Wednesday for the first time in two weeks.



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