Steve Lombardozzi improving with minor hitting tweaks

Rob Carr/Getty Images

Steve Lombardozzi after his pinch-hit homer on Friday (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

For the first three months of the season, Steve Lombardozzi hit .234 and drew four walks in 184 plate appearances over 66 games, 36 of them as a starter. He was part of the Nationals’ underperforming bench. But over the past two months, Lombardozzi has pulled himself out of that slump thanks to minor tweaks to his swing.

In July, Lombardozzi played in 16 games, starting six, and hit .313 (10 for 32). In August, he is hitting .314 (11 for 35) with two home runs and three walks, and has a .940 OPS. He has played in 15 games and was making his eighth start of the month Saturday.

“I’ve played a little more,” he said. “Maybe not every day but getting somewhat more consistent at-bats. The more at-bats you get the better you’re going to feel, honestly.”

Working with new hitting coach Rick Schu, too, has helped, Lombardozzi said. Schu remembered Lombardozzi’s swing from the minor leagues. After Schu took over for Rick Eckstein on July 23, he mentioned a few observations to Lombardozzi. “Not huge adjustments,” Lombardozzi said. “Working with him has been great.”

Before, Lombardozzi held his hands still near his chest. Now, he rocks them ever so slightly, enough to have them feel cocked and ready when he starts his swing.

“Just that timing and that fluidness,” he said. “And just getting everything going a little earlier. When you get everything going a little earlier, you pick up the ball and see the ball better. That’s been a product of it.”

It has helped him hit two home runs this month, including a pinch-hit home run on Friday. As a pinch hitter, Lombardozzi has actually been the Nationals’ best. He is 10 for 36 (.278) as a pinch hitter including two hits over his past seven pinch-hit at-bats.

“The biggest thing is getting my body in a good position to hit, especially when you’re not playing every day,” he said. “You have to be simple. When you play every day, you have more room for error. But when you’re not in there every day, you need to be as simple as you can because you gotta be successful.”

Earlier in the season, Lombardozzi was pinch hitting and starting more often in left field. Recently, Lombardozzi has been playing more at his natural position of second base. With Saturday’s start, Manager Davey Johnson said he is playing the matchups between Lombardozzi and rookie Anthony Rendon against opposing pitchers. But he also wants to continue riding the hot-hitting Lombardozzi (“Lombo’s got this power surge going so I’m gonna take advantage of it”) and he wants to give Rendon more rest during the longest season of his professional career.

Rendon is hitting .259 with six homers, but opposing pitchers have adjusted to him. He is hitting .266 in August with a .772 OPS. He hit .187 in July after a torrid June in which he hit .330. Because of a broken ankle, Rendon only played 43 games in the minors in 2012. This season, Rendon has played 114 games between the majors and minors. “I occasionally hear from my coaches. ‘Okay, give him a rest,’” Johnson said.

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