The Nationals’ young tandem of left fielder Steve Lombardozzi and center fielder Bryce Harper haven’t had that much time to play together in the outfield, but their defensive play and timely early offense was enough to lift the Nationals past Tampa Bay 3-2, snapping a four-game skid.
Might be hard to believe the duo has played all of 69 games in the outfield at the major league level, with 63 starts. Harper has made 45 starts this season with 109 putouts, one assist, one double play and four errors. Lombardozzi has made 18 starts with 23 appearances in the outfield, notching 24 putouts and one assist with no errors.
The 19-year old Harper connected with a first inning RBI single and later scored. He also made three putouts in center and right on defense.
And the 23-year old Lombardozzi smacked a double and scored a run to lead off the game, later making a potential game-saving, diving catch to rob Rays catcher Jose Molina of extra bases in the sixth.
“I took one or two steps back on it, misjudged it,” Lombardozzi said. “But sprinted in and was able to come up with it.”
Harper credited Lombardozzi with helping him on that play and said they make a good one-two punch to leadoff the game and on defense.
“Lombo picked me up there,” Harper said. “He made a great play on Molina’s fly ball. I love him hitting leadoff. He looks good hitting leadoff, why not keep him there.”
“That is probably one of the tougher plays, the line drive right at you, sometimes you misread it, thank goodness I was able to catch it and keep the lead for Stras,” Lombardozzi said.
Lombardozzi has spent most of his career as an infielder, so he realized it would take some time to get acclimated to line drives in the outfield. There is nothing like on-the-job training and it happened with that crucial sixth inning snag.
“I think the more chances you get with balls like that (is important),” Lombardozzi said. “You can simulate it a little bit, but in a game that is where you get your reps, really. I haven’t had too many balls like that (right at me). Luckily I was able to come up with the catch.”
But this great play goes back to those minor league games and offseason instructional camps.
Lombardozzi, Harper and Tyler Moore have spent a great deal of time working on tracking fly balls and their footwork under the direction of Nationals outfield coordinator Tony Tarasco.
Lombardozzi said all that advice and on field repetition are huge when a play like the Molina line drive occurs in an actual game.
“Tony is unbelievable,” Lombardozzi said. “I have learned a lot from him over the last two or three years. I have talked to him on the phone once or twice and he has joked with me saying, ‘I knew you were going to play out there.’ I know he has worked a lot with Bryce and Bryce looks a lot more comfortable than one or two years ago.”
Lombardozzi said it was the first diving catch he has made in a game or in practice: “It was a good one to start on.” And once he got to the dugout, his teammates were giving him high fives and joked that he started the play by going back on the ball when it first came toward him.
“I was kind of goofing, saying I kind of turned that play into a ‘web gem’ myself by making it harder than it should have been.”
But he made the play and Harper said that is because Lombardozzi has all the tools from playing baseball is whole life. Bryce knows all about living baseball.
“Lombo is a good athlete,” Harper said. “That is how he is. We got a lot of good athletes. When you look at the draft we usually draft shortstops and second basemen. Any shortstop can play anywhere, it is good to have.”