The Nationals’ bench has for most of the season been one of their biggest weaknesses, but Steve Lombardozzi cannot be blamed. Monday night, Lombardozzi dropped down a bunt single as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning. It gave him 13 pinch hits on the season, which continued his strong second half and tied him with Kevin Frandsen for the major league lead.
“He’s been a mainstay on the bench,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “It’s a tough job, and he’s handled it very well, mentally and physically. He’s been my best pinch hitter all year long. Everyone else has been kind of non-existent. Really, I was hoping that would be one the strong points coming in, production out of the bench, because that’s where you win a lot of ballgames.”
Johnson described Lombardozzi’s role as a “tough situation,” and not only because of the challenge of staying fresh. Only 25, in his second big league season, Lombardozzi has already been labeled as a bench player. He has aspirations of playing every day, but he was blocked by Danny Espinosa and then, when Espinosa failed, was passed over for Anthony Rendon.
Both Espinosa and Rendon quite clearly have greater upsides than Lombardozzi, but Lombardozzi has produced. In the second half of the season, Lombardozzi has hit .309/.343/.436 over 101 plate appearances. For the past month, he has been getting a few starts each week as Johnson tries to keep Rendon fresh.
“Well, you know, he’s also invaluable doing what he does,” Johnson said. “Not many people can do that. Certainly he could be a regular on a lot of clubs, but we have three candidates here, Espinosa, Rendon and him. That’s going to be a tough, that’s going to be one of the biggest calls the organization will have to make: who wins the job and who goes down.”