JUPITER, Fla. - With Michael Morse looking increasingly unlikely to be ready for opening day, manager Davey Johnson has started thinking about Plan B.
Or, should I say, Plan C. Or D.
That plan, whichever letter is attached to it, is using infielder Steve Lombardozzi in left field on occasion.
The experiment was put into action yesterday in the Nats’ 3-2 loss to the Braves, when Lombardozzi trotted out to left in the middle innings. He’d taken part in his first outfield training session only hours earlier with outfield instructor Bo Porter, but made a fairly smooth transition, recording three put-outs.
“They just kind of threw me out there,” Lombardozzi said. “But I felt fine.”
The last time Lombardozzi manned an outfield position, he said, was as a kid. He’s spent his entire professional career in the infield, but that doesn’t concern Porter, who in the past has converted catcher Josh Willingham and third baseman/second baseman Chris Coghlan into full-time outfielders.
“Lombo actually looked more comfortable than both those guys on their first day,” Porter said. “When you talk about a person like Lombo, (he’s) in tune to the game whether he’s in the infield, sitting on the bench, just watching baseball. If you want to put a term to it, he’s a baseball player. And by playing the infield and knowing all the cuts and relays and where the ball’s supposed to go, all those things are going to benefit him.”
Lombardozzi says he doesn’t have a problem with being given some time in the outfield, even if it pushes him closer to that utility role which up-and-coming players often try and steer clear of.
“I think it’s fun. It’s something that there’s not a lot of thinking involved, you’ve just got to see it and run it down,” Lombardozzi said. “It’s just another thing I’d work hard at to get more comfortable, but I don’t think it’d be something I’d look at as a negative. I’m here to help the team win in whatever way that is. So if I can get out (and play left), that probably helps me.”
Obviously, the Nationals would prefer to just plug in Morse in left, and they have capable backups on the roster in Rick Ankiel, Roger Bernadina, Brett Carroll, Jason Michaels and even Mark DeRosa, who, like Lombardozzi, is mainly an infielder.
But if Lombardozzi can get a good grasp of left, it would allow him to crack the starting lineup a bit more, and he’d go even further toward locking up a spot on the opening day roster.
“I think he can do it,” Porter said. “I think it increases his versatility. When you talk about being able to play the three infield positions and also being able to play left field, being a switch hitter ... that gives the manager a lot of flexibility.
“I’m comfortable with him now. If we had to do it, I’m comfortable with him, just because I know that he’s going to work at it. He’s going to do everything he can to get better at the things he’s not doing well at the beginning, and he’s a baseball player that’s going to adapt to situations.”