Two weeks ago, Nationals Manager Davey Johnson walked through the weight room and told Michael Morse he would be moving from first base to left field. Second baseman Danny Espinisa overheard the conversation. “At least you’re still going to be in the lineup,” Espinosa told Morse. “When Lombardozzi gets here, I’m going to be sitting.”
When Johnson told that story this morning, he emphasized that Espinosa was only kidding. But both Espinosa and shortstop Ian Desmond will have to adjust to lesser playing time for the final 20 games of the season as the Nationals work call-up Stephen Lombardozzi, who plays both short and second, into the lineup. The first sign came today, when Johnson put Lombardozzi into the lineup and gave Espinosa the first game of today’s doubleheader off.
“I’m just going to give him a little experience out there,” Johnson said. “Desi and Espi are my short and second combination. I’m not trying to confuse them about that situation, but this kid can play. He can be a good part of the mix here.”
Espinosa told the Washington Times earlier this month that he did not want to lose playing time upon Lombardozzi’s impending call-up. Desmond welcomed Lombardozzi’s arrival, seeing his presence as a possible help for the future.
“I’m just here to go out there when my name is called,” Desmond said. “It’s about making the team better and developing a young kid. If it’s going to make the organization better, I’ve got no problem with it. I don’t want to be last anymore. If they feel they need him to be here and show what he can do to make us better, I’m all for it. I’m tired of being at the bottom.”
Nationals officials and the Nationals players who have played with Lombardozzi rave about his feel for the game. The name you hear most often as a comparison is Dodgers utility infielder Jamey Carroll. His father, also Stephen, played in the majors for the Twins in the late 80s. “It’s called pedigree,” Johnson said. “He’s kind of what I call a foxhole guy. He’s always going to be in the game.”
Lombardozzi, 22, hit .309 with an impressive .360 on-base percentage in 134 games between Class AA and AAA this year. He may not have the power to immediately challenge for a starting role – he hit eight home runs and slugged .430 in 556 minor league at-bats this season. But “he still projects as a starter candidate,” Johnson said.
The Nationals called up Lombardozzi on Tuesday. He grew up in Columbia, Md. and went to Atholton High, and when he arrived from Syracuse, he just stayed with his parents. “To be so close to home, it’s a pretty unbelievable feeling,” Lombardozzi said Tuesday before the game. “It’s hit me now that I’m in the clubhouse, but it’s still surreal to me.”
Lombardozzi made his debut that night, drawing a walk as a pinch-hitter. (His name is so long, it curled around the ‘1’ on the back of his jersey.) Afterward, outside the Nationals clubhouse, he hugged his father as family members congratulated him.
He was not sure how the Nationals planned to use him, but he got a hint today.