If Steve Lombardozzi is an example of the depth of talent that is on the bench for the 2012 Nationals, this team is heading in the right direction and fast.
Playing in only his 19th major league game, Lombardozzi tallied four consecutive hits, including a dramatic go-ahead two-run double that lifted the Nationals back in the lead over the Astros, 4-2 in the sixth. Washington ended up winning the game, 6-3.
Lombardozzi was a late-season call-up last year for manager Davey Johnson and the Nationals. Instantly, the veteran skipper was impressed with what he saw in Lombardozzi, who's dad played in the majors for the Twins and the Astros, winning a World Series title in 1987 for Minnesota.
Monday night, while giving incumbent second baseman Danny Espinosa a day of rest, Johnson inserted Lombardozzi in the lineup and he delivered a spectacular 4-for-5 performance.
Lombardozzi doubled his career RBI total in one game, and is now 6-for-12 (.500) on this young season. Johnson said the reason Lombardozzi connected is because he is crafty at the plate.
"He is a good two-strike hitter," Johnson said. "He knows the strike zone and makes the pitcher throw the ball over."
Johnson said the Fulton, Md., native's approach is similar to a current major leaguer with a knack for working the count and getting his pitch to hit.
"(Lombardozzi) reminds me of (Tampa Bay Rays right fielder Ben) Zobrist who is a good two strike hitter," Johnson said. "(He) gets a lot of walks, has a good idea on the strike zone."
With the Nationals off to an 7-3 start and Espinosa in there every game, Lombardozzi seized his chance Monday.
"I won't forget this night," Lombardozzi said. "It was pretty awesome, and to do it here at home is pretty special. It was awesome. I was itching to get in there and play a game. It was a huge win for us to bounce back after last night."
Lombardozzi spent close to four seasons in the Nationals' system, logging 447 games and hitting a competitive .298. After playing 134 games last year, split between Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse, not playing every day in D.C. has been an adjustment. With opportunities that haven't come as often in the big leagues, Johnson noticed Lombardozzi attacked his at-bats.
"He is a little more aggressive in this role, which is good, because it is harder to take a lot of pitches and be a good two strike hitter," Johnson said. "So, I am glad to see he is more aggressive at home plate."
"That is something that I have talked to (Johnson) and (hitting coach Rick) Eckstein about," Lombardozzi said. "I think as a ball club everybody is aggressive and being aggressive. (Ian) Desmond has been setting the table for us, so that has definitely been a key for us."
Johnson made a point afterwards to acknowledge Lombardozzi's performance, but state that Espinosa is still his starter at second base.
With Chad Tracy, Mark DeRosa, Xavier Nady, Roger Bernadina and Lombardozzi available to start when necessary, the bench is stocked with guys that can step in and play well.
Center fielder Rick Ankiel said that is the formula playoff caliber teams possess.
"That was unbelievable," Ankiel said. "I think the biggest thing is when you have one of your starters not play, and that guy that steps in for him and (they) have a night like that, that is when you talk about championship teams right there. What a night for him."