Ask Steve Lombardozzi to do just about anything for his baseball team and he’ll do it. Since his debut with the Nats in 2011 he’s played second base, third base, shortstop, and left field. Last year when catchers were going down left and right, Davey Johnson said he would call on the Columbia, Md. native as the emergency backstop if the situation ever presented itself.
So when it was discovered Danny Espinosa would be out at least a few days with a floating chip in his right wrist, naturally Lombardozzi was there to step in. The super utility man known as ‘Lombo’ made the most of the opportunity, going 3-for-4 with two RBI in the Nats’ 5-2 win over the Phillies on Friday night.
“You never want anybody to get injured,” Lombardozzi said. “But when my name’s called, I’m gonna be ready.”
The 24-year-old Lombardozzi doesn’t say much. In a rare postgame session with reporters, he spoke softly and kept his answers short, always polite and often deflecting praise to his teammates. But after his three-hit performance at the plate, a big part of the Nationals’ win, Lombardozzi’s teammates weren’t quite as restrained.
“You’ve got a guy that’s in here watching film all game long trying to help out our lineup when he’s not playing,” Adam LaRoche said. “And then to go out and have a big game, get a big hit, we love it for those guys because they support us the nine out of 10 nights they’re not playing, they’re out there backing us up.“
“Lombo had a great night tonight,” Tyler Moore said. “He’s a great hitter. It’s just good for guys to step up when runners are on. It was getting later in the ball game. And that’s how you win ball games, with clutch hitting.”
Lombardozzi’s big swing came in the fifth inning with two outs off Phillies starter Kyle Kendrick. Down 2-0 to start the count, Kendrick decided to pitch to him despite having Jordan Zimmermann in the on-deck circle. Kendrick ended up laying a sinker in the zone that Lombardozzi took to right-center, lofting a double into the gap that scored Moore and Kurt Suzuki.
“I was just setting myself and staying ready to look for something in a small zone that I could drive and I got something I was able to hit,” he said.
Replacing Espinosa, who has in many ways embodied the Nationals’ offensive struggles this season with a .163 average, Lombardozzi stepped in when the team badly needed it. They were returning from a west coast trip in which they 4-6 and sat just one game ahead of the Phillies in the division.
“Today was a big day with Espinosa out for Lombo to do what he did,” Johnson said. “And to score five runs, we’ve been kind of stuck on none or one or two. So that was big. Big shot in the arm for the offense.”