VIERA, Fla. ——In the Washington Nationals' dugout Saturday morning, manager Davey Johnson explained his contingency plans at shortstop. If Ian Desmond suffered any kind of long-term injury, he said, Danny Espinosa would become the regular shortstop. If Desmond simply required a day off, he would keep Espinosa at second. And short?
"I'd play Lombo there," Johnson said.
A reporter playfully reminded Johnson that he had been saying Steve Lombardozzi had not been assured a spot on the team yet.
"You guys are sneaky," Johnson replied.
Not that we needed any more evidence, but it seems more and more certain that Lombardozzi, an Atholton High alum, will head north with the Nationals. Johnson echoed general manager Mike Rizzo's sentiments from Friday, that the Nationals are still making their final decision. But with no other infielders behind Espinosa and Desmond, the Nationals appear ready to bet Johnson will get Lombardozzi enough at-bats to make his time in the majors worthwhile.
With nothing official, though, Lombardozzi is trying — not always successfully — to block the final decision out of his mind.
"It's hard not to think about it a little bit," Lombardozzi said. "I'm just trying to continue to keep my head, prepare each day for the games. Keep doing what I'm doing, let everything happen."
Johnson indicated the Nationals' roster might not be finalized until the team flies to Washington for its Tuesday exhibition at Nationals Park. Johnson typically would prefer to cut down before leaving Florida, but he wants to know the severity of injuries to first baseman Michael Morse and outfielder Rick Ankiel and the status of outfielder Roger Bernadina, who will rejoin the team today after attending his father's funeral in Curacao.
"Given the uncertainty of some guys that have still got nagging injuries — Morse, Ankiel, Bernadina — it's kind of hard to make final cutdowns with all that uncertainty," Johnson said. "It may be an inconvenience or an extra expense for some guys to come to D.C., but so be it. But I'm very comfortable with everybody that's here. Whoever I chose, whatever decision we make, it's going to be a good decision."
And so Lombardozzi waits, confident in the way he played this spring but not certain of his roster spot. In 59 at-bats, Lombardozzi has hit .322 with a .349 on-base percentage and .390 slugging percentage while learning left field and third base.
"I don't know," Lombardozzi said. "I feel like I've done what I came here to do. I came here to work hard. In the games, keep doing what I've always done. Then everything is out of my control. I feel like I can help this team win, in whatever role that is."
The Nationals learned Saturday that outfielder Jason Michaels will likely return to the organization and report to Triple-A Syracuse. The Nationals released Michaels on Thursday but hoped he would choose to come back should he not find a major league contract.
Infielder Andres Blanco, meanwhile, signed a minor league contract with the Philadelphia Phillies, who have a need with Chase Utley and Michael Martinez nursing injuries.