Lombardozzi’s challenge

VIERA, Fla. - Steve Lombardozzi has his eyes on the prize.

“I’m completely focused on breaking camp with this club,” he said. “I’ll do whatever they ask me to do.”

Lombardozzi, a true local product out of Atholton High School in Columbia, got a taste of the big leagues last September, getting into 13 games. A 19th-round pick in 2008, Lombardozzi had a steady climb through the Nats’ farm system, hitting a little bit better on every higher rung. Most scouts agree that he has nothing left to prove on the minor league level, but there’s an obstacle - or two - in his way. A middle infielder by trade, Washington already has regulars at second and short - Danny Espinosa and Ian Desmond. Would Lombardozzi be content in a utility role?

Unequivocally, yes.

Manager Davey Johnson believes he can find Lombardozzi around 300 plate appearances, but skepticism abounds on that possibility. Lombardozzi believes in his skipper, however.

“I can pinch hit,” he says, and as a switch hitter with a .369 career minor league on-base percentage, that sounds appealing, “and I can pinch-run.”

He can obviously spell either Desmond or Espinosa, and likely Ryan Zimmerman at third, as well. Can he play the outfield?

“As I said, I’ll do whatever they ask me to do,” Lombardozzi said.

The Nationals need to decide if Lombardozzi, in a utility role, would see his development stall. It’s entirely possible that, if June rolls around and he’s had fewer than 50 at-bats, he could find himself back at Triple-A Syracuse. Johnson, as a former second baseman, understands what Lombardozzi is going through, but also grasps the importance of the process.

At 23, Lombardozzi would seem to still have time on his side.