Nationals' Lombardozzi goes back to the bench

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Sports,MLB,Nationals,Brian McNally

Despite hot hitting, infielder loses starting role when Desmond returns

You have to feel for Nationals infielder Steve Lombardozzi.

In his first full pro season, Lombardozzi has been a jack-of-all-trades. A natural second baseman, he has found himself playing left field and third base along with his natural position at second base. When he finally earned the chance at regular playing time thanks to shortstop Ian Desmond's oblique injury at the end of last month, Lombardozzi took full advantage.

With Danny Espinosa moving to shortstop while Desmond recuperated, Lombardozzi took over at second. From Aug. 3 through the end of a long 10-game road trip that ended Wednesday, the 23-year-old put together his best run in the majors. He batted 21-for-59 with three doubles and two triples. He scored 11 runs. He walked five times and struck out just nine times in those 14 games. That is normally a pretty effective way to keep your job.

"[Lombardozzi's] been a regular his whole life, and he was basically a regular here -- first as a left fielder and then as a second baseman, his normal position," Washington manager Davey Johnson said. "He doesn't really have a weak side, left or right, although I've been using that as an excuse to play [outfielder Tyler] Moore."

And yet when Desmond returned from the disabled list Friday, he was back at shortstop and the equally red-hot Espinosa was back at second. That left Lombardozzi back on the bench as a super-utility option -- the role he began the season playing. But despite his incredible road trip, Lombardozzi won't start again until Sunday's series finale against the New York Mets.

"They got better," Desmond joked about his team's play without him for 25 games. "No, we have a great team. We've been doing this all year long. Danny came in and did a great job. Lombo played outstanding. I just hope I can contribute."

On Saturday against the Mets, true to his word, Johnson found playing time for Moore in left to keep his bat active. Lombardozzi began the game watching from the bench for the second night in a row just hoping to wrangle a pinch-hitting appearance late in the game. It's not an ideal scenario for Lombardozzi, but it's an added luxury for a Nats club that is just about at full health for the first time this season. In that case, sacrifices have to be made.

Lombardozzi is batting .280 with two home runs and 21 RBI. He's a fine defensive player at second, though his time in left field was filled with adjustments. His on-base percentage is up to .329 -- not bad for a reserve in his rookie season. He's also a relatively good contact hitter with 39 strikeouts in 332 at-bats.

"[Lombardozzi's] been getting some pretty good, big hits from the right side as well," Johnson said of his switch hitter. "But he's on a team that's got some very talented players up the middle."

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

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