Redundancy isn’t always a bad thing in spite of the negative connotations often associated with the word. In the case of the Washington Nationals’ roster, it’s actually a key to the way Nats GM Mike Rizzo, and general managers league-wide admittedly, construct their teams. The defending NL East champs have multiple closers for example. If 33-year-old veteran Rafael Soriano has had too much work, the Nationals can turn to the likes of Drew Storen, their ‘09 first-round pick who saved 42 games in 2011, or Tyler Clippard, who saved 32 games last year with Storen recovering from surgery, or if things get desperate, Henry Rodriguez, who saved nine games last summer before Nationals manager turned to Clippard to close out close ones.
With Danny Espinosa struggling at the plate, the Nats turned to Steve Lombardozzi this week, inserting the 24-year-old at second base so Espinosa could sit and hopefully figure things out. Lombardozzi, as he’s done so far throughout his short career, responded to the challenge, played solid defense and drove in the Nationals’ first run in a much-needed win over the Braves on Thursday night.
When injuries struck the team last season, Lombardozzi filled in admirably where necessary, playing the outfield for the first time in his career and getting reps at third, short and second base. When Ian Desmond missed significant time with an oblique issue after the All-Star Game last July/August, Lombardozzi put together a 33-game stretch of starts in which he posted a .301/.333/.399 line with five doubles, three triples and a home run in 151 plate appearances.
Lombardozzi and fellow rookie Tyler Moore were keys to the Nationals’ success in 2012. Both young players ended up getting more playing time and at bats than they were expected to, and each was forced to play out of position, but they came through when Davey Johnson turned to them to help deal with a string of injuries that affected the Nats’ roster. Johnson cited the work they did for the Nationals last week when he decided to sit Anthony Rendon for a few games while he was up with the team in order to get Lombardozzi in the lineup.
When Ryan Zimmerman went on the DL this season, the Nationals were able to turn to 22-year-old 2011 first-round pick Anthony Rendon, a little earlier than they probably preferred. Though they wanted to play Rendon every day while he was up so as to avoid negatively affecting his development, Johnson explained that the needs of the team came first. “I don’t necessarily like having a youngster sitting on the bench,” Johnson told reporters, “And (having) him come in the game late or pinch hit, but I think we’re better served as a group having (Lombardozzi) in there.”
“Last year, when we had all the injuries,” the Nats manager explained further, “(Lombardozzi) and Tyler were big keys to keeping us in there and that outweighs the need to play a youngster.” Rendon got his at bats too, however, and ended his time with the team with a 2-for-3 night at the plate last night in Atlanta, in which the OBP-loving third baseman walked and scored one of the Nats’ three runs in a 3-1 win over the Braves.
Rendon’s time with the big league club will end today when he returns to Double-A Harrisburg, where he had a .292/.462/.500 before he was called up to make his major league debut. In 30 plate appearances with the Nationals, Rendon hit for a .240 average - not bad, but the young infielder who had a .505 OBP over three collegiate seasons at Rice and more walks than strikeouts in each of his three seasons of college ball, left the team with a good impression and no doubt inspired confidence in the Nats should they need to turn to him again. His plan this spring, when he knew he wouldn’t make the team was to make the Nats brass remember him when he was gone. He accomplished that goal in spring training and in his first eight-game stint in the majors.
Organizational depth. Redundancy. Since he took over as GM, Rizzo has rebuilt the organization from the bottom up. It was all part of Rizzo’s plan.
“He’s the best GM I’ve ever had,” Johnson told reporters last week, “In a lot of respects. I like, No.1, that he’s smart. He also played second base. He’s been a scout. He surrounds himself with intelligent people. Everything that he’s done has had a lot of reasoning behind it.
“I think, you know, from ownership, GM and all that, to really be a successful organization it has to start at the top. And I mean, I’m going above Rizzo. The Lerners have been outstanding owners and they hired a great man in Mike Rizzo. He’s a great evaluator of talent. He understands all the nuances of a baseball season. He understands insurance at positions and pitching. He understands really all the things that you really need to be aware of and he does that within a budget. Which is outstanding.”
In Rizzo we trust.
Patrick Reddington blogs about the Nationals for Federal Baseball and appears here as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.