More than three-and-a-half hours before Monday’s game against the Atlanta Braves, Nationals jack-of-all-trades Steve Lombardozzi stood at shortstop and took a groundballs. Teammate, close friend and fellow rookie, Tyler Moore, took groundballs at first base. Both filled important roles when the Nationals were ravaged with injuries to everyday starters.
Now that the lineup is complete and healthy, both players have been pushed to the bench with smaller roles. Both are doing their best to stay as sharp as possible with less playing time.
It’s an especially tough position for Lombardozzi, the team’s frequent leadoff hitter who was among the hottest hitters in baseball over the past two weeks before he was pushed to the bench. He hit.356 (21 for 59), had a .415 on-base percentage and played solid second base over a 14-game stretch that ended Aug. 15. Lombardozzi hasn’t played since.
“I feel bad,” Nationals Manager Davey Johnson said. “I went to him the other day after the road trip. [Ian Desmond] is coming back. I said, ‘Man, the guy is playing the best and I can’t get him in the lineup.’ He just grinned at me.”
Since Desmond returned from the disabled list on Friday, Johnson had originally planned to give him a break on Sunday and get Lombardozzi some at-bats. But Desmond lobbied Johnson because he felt fine and wanted to play. Johnson recognized that Desmond, an all-star, had played a major role in the team’s success and couldn’t deny him the playing time.
Lombardozzi has taken the move in stride. He said he is taking some extra batting practice when needed to stay as sharp as possible. He learned to play left field when Michael Morse and Jayson Werth were hurt; but both are healthy and playing well. He played second base when Desmond went down for 25 games with an oblique injury. For now, he's a valuable backup middle infielder who could see some time in left field, if needed, too.
“Yeah, you can’t really be upset about not being in there,” he said. “Just getting my work and preparing like any other game I’m playing, nothing too out of the ordinary.”
Added Johnson: “I’ll get him in. I’m not worried about that. ... We’re going on a road trip and there’ll be times now. These young guys I have up the middle don’t want to come out. I know the feeling. I never wanted to come out. I’ll find some spots.”