VIERA, Fla. - Prior to the start of spring training, if I had told you that Craig Stammen would be leading the Nationals in strikeouts nearly three weeks into the Grapefruit League season, would you have believed me?
If I had told you that Stephen Strasburg would have only one fewer hit than both Michael Morse and Adam LaRoche with 17 spring games in the books, would you have thought I was insane?
In this game, you just never know what will happen on any given day.
Another thing you never know on any given day is where you’re going to find Steve Lombardozzi’s name in the Nationals’ lineup. The 23-year-old has seen time at second base, shortstop and third base this spring. Yesterday, he found himself hitting in the leadoff spot atop manager Davey Johnson’s lineup.
Johnson even added a new wrinkle to how Lombardozzi could be used, saying yesterday that he’s considered putting Lombardozzi - who has strictly played the infield since joining the Nationals organization in 2008 - in the outfield if needed.
Regardless of what position he plays or where he hits in the order, it’s clear Johnson likes Lombardozzi and wants to find playing time for him - assuming he makes the club, which Johnson has not yet officially announced.
“He’s a proven everyday player, and I’m using him in a little different situation than what he’s used to,” Johnson said. “I talked to him last year when he came up, and I said to him, ‘I look at you as an everyday player, but on this ball club, I’ve got some (other) guys I like a lot, so I’m going to play you around. I’m not trying to make a utility player out of you, but I think you’re a heck of a ballplayer and I’m going to play you around.’ And that’s what I did.
“He’s made a couple great over at short and third, playing him out of position. But I really like my infield, and looking ahead to the future, how I would have to use him if he made my club would be in that role that I explained to him in September.”
Johnson compares Lombardozzi to the Rays’ Ben Zobrist, a guy who has played every position except pitcher and catcher since making the majors with Tampa Bay. Zobrist started out as a true utility player, but made the All-Star team in 2009 and now sees the vast majority of his time at second base.
“Both switch hitters, both exceptionally good two-strike hitters, both just smart baseball players,” Johnson said.
This spring, Lombardozzi has impressed in a wide variety of areas. He’s hitting .303 (10-for-33) with a homer and two RBIs, has made a number of fine defensive plays at various infield positions and has really impressed the coaching staff with his work ethic and aggressiveness.
The problem (if you want to call it a problem), which Johnson alluded to, is that he thinks highly of second baseman Danny Espinosa and shortstop Ian Desmond, and there isn’t currently an everyday spot in the Nats’ lineup open to Lombardozzi. So for now, the Fulton, Md., native will get his at-bats wherever they fall in the order, and his defensive reps at whichever position Johnson feels is best that day.
“We’ve got two guys (Espinosa and Desmond) that are on the upswing that I think a lot of,” Johnson said. “It’s really more about getting him at-bats in a game and seeing if he can handle that (utility) role prior to being an everyday player.
“He’s having a remarkable spring, and I enjoy watching him compete to make this club.”