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Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 04/03/2012

Steve Lombardozzi, Brett Carroll reflect on making the Nationals’ opening day roster

Steve Lombardozzi still wasn’t sure when reporters flocked to him late Monday afternoon. One of them asked Lombardozzi what he thought about making the team. “Oh, wow,” Lombardozzi said. “I guess that’s confirmation.”

Lombardozzi, the 23-year-old from Atholton who has a big league father and was called up last fall, had been told he had made the Nationals’ roster. He just didn’t fully realize it. Against the Red Sox, Lombardozzi had swatted a double. In the ninth inning, Manager Davey Johnson walked by him in the dugout.

“Well, just because of that double, I’ll put you on my 25,” Johnson told him.

The way Johnson said it made Lombardozzi wonder if he was joking. When he saw the reporters at his locker, Lombardozzi knew he was not.

“That’s funny,” Lombardozzi said. “I didn’t know if he was completely serious.”

He struggled to find words without laughing. And he blurted, “I’m pumped.”

* * *

It was sometime between batting practice and first pitch today. Brett Carroll sat at his locker. He still had not convinced himself he would be making the Nationals’ roster despite the mounting evidence. Manager Davey Johnson walked past him and leaned over.

“By the way, you’re on the 25-man,” Johnson said. “You’re breaking with us.”

Carroll paused. “I was like, ‘Short and sweet. Thanks, Davey,’ ” Carroll said later. Johnson had said the words so casually, he didn’t fully realize their impact. He had come to camp as a non-roster invitee, and he had made the team.

(Julio Cortez - Associated Press)
“I’m really excited of what’s to come,” Carroll said. “I really feel like this is going to be a big break for my career but also just being a part of a special team like this. It’s got a lot of capability of doing some damage so — can’t put that into words, really. It’s just kind of a feeling I’m excited about. Like I said, I can’t get ahead of myself and put a lot of expectations on that. because I don’t, just coming here, help out wherever it is, and be excited about that.”

Carroll believes he can restart his career this season. He was drafted in the 10th round in 2004, and he reached the majors at 24 in 2007.

“I got called up out of the minor leagues when I was still really learning the game,” Carroll said. “It was obviously a blessing for all the doors that were open to get there.”

But once he reached the majors, Carroll found inconsistent playing time and a shuttle back and forth from Class AAA. He had spent his baseball life on a constant upward arc, improving and improving, but now his development stagnated. For four years, he got irregular playing time in the majors, between 23 and 92 games a year. For four years, he knew he had more ability within him, but could not find the opportunity to unlock it.

Last year, something started to click. He spent almost the entire season in the minors, appearing in only two big league games. He became an everyday player again, and even though it came in Class AAA, he again found himself improving, and it invigorated him.

“I wanted to be in the big leagues, but at Triple-A there was time to get back into the groove with some stuff and working on some things,” Carroll said. “There’s some guys in [the Nationals clubhouse] that have even said that to me as well, and that’s always encouraging when somebody else, even some veterans have said, there’s more of a ceiling there that you can tap into. Potential is a tricky thing. But I do believe that I’m more the player that I want to be. And I’ve got to continue to grow and mature and be better.”


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By  |  07:00 AM ET, 04/03/2012

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