The latest evidence that the Nationals plan to make Steve Lombardozzi part of their team came Wednesday in the fifth inning of their 3-2 loss in 10 innings to the Braves. Lombardozzi entered the game in left field, his first professional appearance in the outfield.
Tuesday, Manager Davey Johnson said he had considered giving Lombardozzi playing time in the outfield. The Nationals think Lombardozzi can be a key contributor off their bench, but they believe he must get at least 300 at-bats to not stunt his development. He has played all over the infield, making only two errors all last season in the minors. By adding outfield to his repertoire, the Nationals could get him more playing time.
Lombardozzi had a quiet day in the outfield. In his first inning, he caught a shallow fly ball. In the 10th inning, he declined to make a throw to the plate to try to retire the go-ahead run, but “he had no play at home,” Johnson said. In limited opportunity, Lombardozzi did not stand out, in a good way.
“I thought he did all right,” Johnson said. “He handled all the chances.”
Johnson said he could envision Lombardozzi filling a role similar to Tampa Bay Rays star Ben Zobrist, a super-utility player who cobbles together the at-bats of an everyday player while bouncing between five positions. Johnson did not want to brand Lombardozzi a utility player, but from first glance it seems as though Lombardozzi could handle that kind of role.
●Chad Durbin threw two scoreless innings today in relief of Lannan, continuing a solid spring for an overlooked reliever. Durbin stands little chance of making a crowded Nationals bullpen, but his strong showing could help him land with another major league team. Durbin has allowed three earned runs in 111 / 3 innings, striking out nine while issuing two walks.
Durbin, 34, has an opt-out clause in the minor league deal he signed with the Nationals this winter, which means he can refuse his assignment and try to catch on with another major league team if the Nationals do not put him in their opening day bullpen.
“We’d definitely want to see if we could make another big league team before we take any other options,” Durbin said. “More or less, I can’t control any other variable. If I throw the ball well, I’d have to at least shop around.”
His spring has given him reason to believe he could contribute. Last year, Durbin posted a 5.53 ERA in 681 / 3 innings with the Cleveland Indians. Over the winter, he made what he feels is a key adjustment. Durbin had started to slowly lower his arm slot, which he didn’t realize because he had stopped watching film to prevent overanalyzing himself.
This spring, Durbin pitched with his old, higher arm slot. “It’s paid off,” he said. “My stuff has been better this spring than it has been at any point last year or probably half of 2010.”
● The Nationals’ loss to the Braves had a goofy ending even by the standards of spring. The Nationals’ final threat died in the 10th inning when, with two outs and two men on base, reliever Ryan Perry struck out looking to end the game.
Perry had been forced into the batter’s box because the Nationals ran out of players. Their Class AAA and AA teams had traveled for the day, so Johnson could not summon any minor leaguers. And a perfect series of events led to the rest of the bench being empty.
Before the game, Johnson joked with Mark DeRosa, who was not starting, that, “I’m saving you for a left-hander with the game on the line.” DeRosa remained on the bench until the eighth inning, at which point Johnson did not want to risk DeRosa taking an at-bat after sitting for three hours and injuring his troubled wrist. Johnson gave DeRosa standard spring veteran treatment and let him go home. He felt secure it would not be a problem.
“The way I had the pitching lined up, it would have to go 10 innings for the pitcher to hit,” Johnson said. “I should have known.”
Sure enough, the Nationals took a 1-0 lead into the ninth inning, and the Braves scored a run off Perry. The Nationals could not score in the ninth, and Atlanta took advantage of a Danny Espinosa error to score two in the 10th off Perry.
“Coach was like, ‘You may have to hit,’ ” Perry said. “I was like, ‘Whoa, really?’ I didn’t know that was a possibility. My adrenaline was definitely going.”
Still, the Nationals needed a significant rally for Perry to come to the plate. And then Ian Desmond dropped down a bunt single … and Carlos Maldonado walked … and Brett Carroll singled with one out … and Perry, suddenly, stood on deck.
Chad Tracy flied out to left, which Desmond scored on. Left-hander Jose Lugo stood on the mound. The Nationals really could have used DeRosa. Instead, Perry strode to the plate.
“I haven’t swung a bat in like seven years,” Perry said. “It felt like it was 100 coming at me. Totally different view.”
Perry actually made contract twice, fouling two balls down the first base line, before Lugo froze him with a fastball over the plate.
Perry did not want to be in that position, having allowed the game-tying run to force extra innings in the first place. And he did not have much success with the game on line. Still, it was a chance to do something he hadn’t even considered.
He said, “It was fun being out there.”
●Reliever Sean Burnett did not pitch as scheduled today after he tweaked his lower back while turning at his locker. Burnett has had similar, minor flare-ups with his back in the past. For now, he will take anti-inflammatory medicine and rest. The injury is not considered serious.