For the first two or three weeks of his offseason, Steve Lombardozzi hung out with his family in Columbia, his time to unwind after his first full season in the major leagues and following the heart-breaking end to the Nationals playoff run. But soon enough, he was back in the gym working out and conditioning. “I got antsy after a little while,” said the 24-year-old second baseman and outfielder.
From now until about January, Lombardozzi will continue to lift, run, spend time with family and friends, help coordinate a charity effort for victims of Hurricane Sandy and squeeze in some trips for pleasure. At the start of next year, however, he will get back onto a baseball field and start practicing again before the start of spring training in February, embarking on a new season while hoping to forget the gut-wrenching end to the previous one.
“I still think I’m not over it,” Lombardozzi said of the Nationals’ 9-7 loss in National League Division Series Game 5 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. “I think it’s going to sit in my stomach the whole offseason. But it’s just going to be fuel for the fire. And I think that’s the same with everybody on the team.”
“I’ve talked to a bunch of the guys since the season ended,” he added. “We don’t bring it up. But you can guarantee that each one of the guys it’s still sitting in the back of their heads and they’re using it for fuel and getting ready for next year.”
Last season, Lombardozzi arrived at spring training just hoping to make the 25-man roster — and by late May, he was a starting in left field, a new position, out of need. His versatility, hard work and ability to get on base made him an indispensable back-up — and a regular when starters were injured. But when Michael Morse, Jayson Werth and Ian Desmond returned from injuries, Lombardozzi saw his opportunities decrease — a reality that bugged Manager Davey Johnson because he felt the rookie had earned more playing time. Still, Lombardozzi’s first full season was a success, hitting .273/.317/.354 with three home runs, 27 RBI and five stolen bases in 416 plate appearances. He played 41 games in left field, 51 at his natural position of second base, 13 at third and once at shortstop.
“I think overall in the big picture we won and had the best record in baseball and for me to be a part of that, that’s my main focus going into every season, is winning,” Lombardozzi said. “And obviously we came up short and that’s something that’s sticking with me because I’m here to help this team win a World Series. From a team standpoint, winning the East and making the playoffs and for my rookie year going to the playoffs and experience that is pretty awesome. And I’m very fortunate that I got to do that my first year in the big leagues.
“But personally, it’s hard to be satisfied. I don’t think I’m ever satisfied with my performance and I think there’s always something I can improve on for sure and not one or two things, I think it’s overall and just continue to improve in all areas of my game and come into spring training ready to go.”
Lombardozzi said there wasn’t anything specific he wanted to concentrate on improving during the offseason. He understands that his role — with all the starters healthy — will be as a roving back-up and pinch-hitter. While he didn’t have the range of an elite left fielder, he played well there last season, committing no errors in over 252 innings there.
“I learn quickly,” he said. “The role that I played it’s very hard to play once a week or pinch-hitting. That’s very hard. So taking away from the season I learned a lot and grew up as a player and person and picking guys’ brains. I’m coming ready to make an impact and help this team like I was able to step in and help.”
Lombardozzi expected several of his teammates to claim distinctions over the past few weeks of the award season. This week, Bryce Harper won the NL Rookie of the Year Award and Davey Johnson claimed the NL Manager of the Year Award, while Gio Gonzalez was an NL Cy Young Award finalist. Ian Desmond, Adam LaRoche and Stephen Strasburg all won Silver Slugger Awards, and LaRoche also was a Gold Glove recipient. It was a banner year for the Nationals on the field and on the award circuit.
“It’s awesome,” Lombardozzi said. “We had a lot of guys that stepped up and had great years. For them to be rewarded and acknowledged is special and they deserve it.”