For Lombardozzi, given a choice between 300 at-bats in the big leagues or 500 at Class AAA, the choice, were it his to make, would be obvious: “This is where I want to be,” he said, “and if it’s only for a certain amount of at-bats, well, that’s what it is. But I’d also be here watching games, sitting next to these guys and learning. That’s important, too.”
“He’s ready for the big leagues,” said the elder Lombardozzi, who knows something about player development, having spent 41
2 years in the minors before breaking into the big leagues. “He’s there [in terms of development]. He can help and contribute to building a winner at this level. It’s just a matter of what capacity.”
After a relatively rapid ascent through the Nationals’ farm system, Lombardozzi, a switch-hitter with good speed and a solid .298 batting average in the minors, was called up to the big leagues in September, hitting just .194 in 32 plate appearances, but impressing everyone with his work ethic — and yes, his look.
“He looks,” Rizzo said, “like a big leaguer.”
Still, taking nothing for granted, Lombardozzi spent his offseason at home in Columbia, making the almost-daily drive to Nationals Park to lift weights with Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth and other veterans. He added some muscle-weight to his 6-foot, 170-pound frame.
This spring, he is hitting .321 while seeing time at second, short and third. On Friday, he had three hits — two of them, including a homer, off New York Yankees ace CC Sabathia — sandwiched around a spectacular diving stop at third base. After the homer, he found himself seated on the Nationals bench next to Johnson, who said kiddingly, “What, are you trying to make the team or something?”
A big leaguer, in that situation, would play it cool, so that’s what Lombardozzi did.
“He nodded,” Johnson said, “and went out and got another hit.”