A Nationals evaluator pointed his finger at Steve Lombardozzi’s name at the top of the lineup card Monday morning. “With a man on third and less than two outs,” he asked, “is there anybody else you would want up?” The answer was implied.
Lombardozzi has turned from a tertiary figure in this Nationals’ season to a crucial piece of their offense — a reliable situational hitter, a relentless worker, an on-base machine. After going 3 for 4 with a run in the Nationals’ loss yesterday, Lombardozzi is hitting .323 with a .381 on-base percentage.
He is still eight plate appearances shy of qualifying for league leader boards. But for the sake of context, only 14 National League hitters entered Monday with an on-base percentage higher than .381.
“He’s great,” third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “I think he doesn’t let anything affect his approach and his style of play. He knows who he is and what kind of player he is. And he definitely knows what he needs to do to be successful at this level. And he sticks with it, no matter what the situation is or who says what to him.”
Lombardozzi has become the Nationals’ typical leadoff hitter, batting first in six of the Nationals’ past nine games. “My primary lineup is Lombo leading off,” Johnson said.
Monday morning, Manager Davey Johnson discussed the composition of his lineup when Michael Morse returns. He indicated he wants to keep Lombardozzi in the first spot. And through the first two months of the season, Lombardozzi has made clear the Nationals’ best lineup includes him at the top.
With Morse coming back into the mix, the Nationals may have to sacrifice defense in the outfield to keep Lombardozzi in the lineup. Johnson said he likes Espinosa’s recent progress and, after sticking with him through a downturn, Johnson has no plans to cut into Espinosa’s playing time.
The Nationals could put Morse in right, Lombardozzi in left and Bryce Harper in center. Harper would be the only “plus” arm. Morse’s ability to throw is very much in question coming off his injury, and Lombardozzi, a second baseman by trade, can’t help not having a strong outfield arm.
The point is, Johnson wants Lombardozzi in the lineup and leading off. When Lombardozzi comes up, the same word tends to surface: “approach.” He has the ability to do the right thing at the right moment. In 30 plate appearances with runners in scoring position, for example, he has struck out twice.
“I think it varies,” Lombardozzi said of his approach. “I’m watching the pitcher when I’m in the dugout. Before the games I’m watching tape on him, seeing what his tendencies are. I try and go up there and stick to a game plan.”
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FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Louisville 4, Syracuse 3: Xavier Paul went 3 for 4. Mark Teahen went 1 for 4 with a double.
Reading 8, Harrisburg 0: Danny Rosenbaum allowed six runs in six innings on 12 hits and one walk, striking out two. Harrisburg placed Destin Hood on the disabled list with a wrist injury.
Myrtle Beach 3, Potomac 2: Robbie Ray allowed two earned runs in 6 2 / 3 innings on six hits and two walks, striking out two. J.P. Ramirez went 2 for 3 with a double and a walk. Adrian Sanchez went 2 for 3 with a double and a triple.
Hagerstown 9, Greensboro 7: Alex Meyer allowed one run in five innings on five hits and two walks, striking out three. Brian Goodwin went 1 for 4 with a walk. Billy Burns went 2 for 5. Jason Martinson went 2 for 5 with a double. Matt Skole went 1 for 4 with a home run.