Steve Lombardozzi makes the most of his chance

In the afternoon before games, Steve Lombardozzi is always going somewhere or doing something. He is walking out of the weight room, or heading out to the field to play long toss, or jumping in the cage to practice bunting. And then the game begins, and usually, he sits still.

“Yeah, you sit on the bench and it’s real tough to watch,” Lombardozzi said. “You want to help. I cheer from the bench when I’m not playing, but it’s good to get in there and pick these guys up, get them going.”

Thursday afternoon, he received his chance. Davey Johnson planned to rest Ian Desmond for the second straight day because of a blister, but Desmond talked his way into the lineup. Johnson then chose to keep Lombardozzi at second over Anthony Rendon, giving Lombardozzi consecutive starts for the first time since June 23.

Lombardozzi responded with his best game of the season. He went 3 for 5 with two doubles and instigated both of the Nationals’ rallies. On defense, he made two sensational plays to prevent Gio Gonzalez from falling into early trouble. If not for Bryce Harper’s three hits and walk-off homer, Lombardozzi would have been the Nationals’ best player in the Nationals’ 9-7 win over the  Pirates.

“That’s why I play this game – I like to play the game,” Lombardozzi said. “I love competing. I’m just glad. I want to get in there and try and give this team a boost, get some energy and try and give us a spark. It was a fun win and a big one.”

Lombardozzi has had a rough second full season. Before Wednesday he hadn’t started a game since July 13, and he entered Thursday hitting .237/.249/.295, with a WAR of -1.0. But “it’s a whole different ballgame when you get a start,” he said. “It’s a completely different mind-set. It’s fun to get out there and compete.”

After Harper led off the game with a hit by pitch, Lombardozzi inserted himself into the middle of the action. After Lombardozzi worked a two-ball count, he noticed third baseman Pedro Alvarez move back at third base. Lombardozzi deadened a beautiful bunt down the third base line and sprinted into first base well ahead of catcher Russell Martin’s spinning throw.

“I just laid it down and walked to first,” Lombardozzi said.

After he caught the throw, first baseman Gaby Sanchez turned toward second base and saw Harper straying off the base. Harper had thought Martin still had the ball and was going to throw first; he planned to make a run at third base upon the release.

Sanchez fired to second base and trapped Harper in a rundown, another classic moment for the 2013 Nationals, bungling even the richest opportunities. Harper, though, has a knack for escape. Before games in the clubhouse, Ryan Zimmerman wears a T-shirt emblazoned with Harper’s image in full, helmet-losing sprint in front of the words, “Run Until They Tag You.”

Now, Harper bolted for third base. Shortstop Clint Barmes chased him, but Harper ran away. Barmes tossed to third baseman Pedro Alvarez, and the ball deflected off his glove and rolled to the wall. Harper had not only survived; he was hustling home with the game’s first run.

“I was just pumped I got to first and was safe,” Lombardozzi said. “That’s the kind of stuff we need. When things aren’t going good, you got to go for it, take some chances. That was a big play that turned the game around right there.”

In the eighth inning, Lombardozzi flared an RBI ground-rule double down the left field line, which sparked a three-run rally. Lombardozzi’s teammates felt the lift he provided. After the game, Lombardozzi interrupted a workout to chat with a couple of reporters. Ross Detwiler walked by and said playfully, “Steve is a [expletive] beast.”

“Lombo’s unbelievable,” Harper said. “He’s an unbelievable player. He has been since the first time I met him in the fall league. He can play second base like no other and he can swing it. He’s a .300 hitter, and I really believe he’s going to help us down the stretch. He’s a great ballplayer.”

FROM THE POST

Bryce Harper turned the Nationals’ most devastating loss yet into a 9-7 win over the Pirates with his first career walk-off home run.

Even with their win, the Nationals are just about done, Tracee Hamilton says.

Young flamethrowers like Matt Harvey face inherent risks, Dave Sheinin writes.

FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL

Knorr pulls Soriano

Pitching uncertainty

Davey’s sore hand

NATS MINOR LEAGUES

Louisville 1, Syracuse 0: Jeff Kobernus went 1 for 4 with a double. Yunesky Maya allowed one run in eight innings on seven hits and no walks, striking out one. Cole Kimball allowed no runs in one relief inning on no hits and one walk, striking out one.

Harrisburg 2, Portland 1: In his AA debut, A.J. Cole allowed one run in seven innings on three hits and a walk, striking out six. One Nationals official said recently Cole may be giving himself a chance to contend for a rotation spot next spring. Brian Goodwin went 1 for 3 with a walk. Destin Hood went 2 for 4 with a triple. Steven Souza won the Eastern League Player of the Week award.

Lynchburg 4, Potomac 3: Billy Burns went 1 for 3 with a triple. Adrian Sanchez went 2 for 4 with a double.

Hagerstown 3, Delmarva 0: Kylin Turnbull allowed no runs in seven innings on four hits and a walk, striking out nine. Narciso Mesa went 2 for 3. Brandon Miller went 1 for 3 with a walk.

Williamsport 4, Auburn 1: Cody Dent, who is Bucky’s son, went 3 for 4. Robert Orlan allowed on run over five innings on two hits and no walks, striking out five.

In the Gulf Coast League, third-round pick Drew Ward has been impressing Nationals officials with his advanced approached. Ward, an 18-year-old who played in Oklahoma’s lowest high school classification, has surprised the Nationals with his maturity at the plate. In his first 27 games, Ward has hit .330/.435/.440 while drawing 16 walks and striking out 25 times in 91 at-bats.

Adam Kilgore covers national sports for the Washington Post. Previously he served as the Post's Washington Nationals beat writer from 2010 to 2014.
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Adam Kilgore · July 25, 2013

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