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Steve Lombardozzi is attempting to make the club as a backup infielder.
We've hit the home stretch of spring training. The Nationals have 14 more Grapefruit League games to play before heading north for one final exhibition against the Red Sox at Nationals Park and then on to Chicago for the season opener against the Cubs.
Much has already been accomplished in this camp. Ryan Zimmerman got his long-term contract extension. The top of a very talented rotation looks nearly ready to go. Bryce Harper impressed early but struggled late and was sent to Syracuse over the weekend.
But there's still plenty that needs to be resolved over these next two weeks. Let's run through the biggest issues still facing the Nationals as Opening Day draws closer and closer...
WHO'S THE NO. 5 STARTER?
Just when it looked like Chien-Ming Wang had locked it up, the veteran right-hander suffered a scary looking hamstring injury trying to make a play at first base. The Nationals insist the injury isn't serious and may only sideline Wang for a couple of weeks, but his chances of being ready to make his first start of the regular season appear slim at best. After two years of rehab from his shoulder surgery, the Nationals aren't going to push Wang too fast. Besides, he's yet to even throw three innings in a game. He'll need to make at least two, maybe three more starts either at spring training or on a brief rehab assignment, before he's good to go.
So that opens the door for John Lannan to take back the rotation spot he had a stranglehold on for the better part of the last four seasons. Lannan, though, hasn't pitched especially well this spring (his uncertain status hasn't helped). Ross Detwiler is waiting in the wings, but at this point it certainly appears as though Lannan will open the year in the rotation with Detwiler in the bullpen, ready to jump in and start if things change.
WHO'S THE CENTER FIELDER?
Just when it looked like Jayson Werth was primed to take over that job, the Nationals announced Bryce Harper would be working primarily in center field at Class AAA, which means Werth will remain in right field for the foreseeable future. That means the center field job remains up for grabs among the quartet of Rick Ankiel, Roger Bernadina, Brett Carroll and Jason Michaels.
Ankiel has been the frontrunner all along and will almost certainly be out there on Opening Day provided he's healthy. (He's battled a quad strain in recent days, but he's due to return to the lineup tonight.) Manager Davey Johnson, though, may be inclined to platoon a right-handed hitter with Ankiel to begin the season. That's where Carroll and Michaels come in. There's only room for one on the 25-man roster. At this point, Carroll has a leg up, but there's still time for that to change.
CAN IAN DESMOND GET ON TRACK?
The first half of the Grapefruit League slate has not been kind to Ian Desmond, who enters play tonight with only seven hits in 35 at-bats. Worse, the Nationals' prospective leadoff man has yet to draw a walk while striking out 10 times.
No one with the club is suggesting Desmond's job is in jeopardy, and Johnson remains his strongest supporter. But the Nationals desperately need someone in the leadoff spot to get on base with some degree of regularity, and they desperately need Desmond to start showing signs of his ability to do that.
WHO FILLS OUT THE BENCH?
Jesus Flores is guaranteed to be the No. 2 catcher. And Mark DeRosa is guaranteed to have a job as a backup at all four corner positions. After that, there's still competition going on.
The backup infielder's job, though, sure appears to be going to Steve Lombardozzi. The rookie has impressed both at the plate and in the field this spring, and Johnson sounds committed to giving Lombardozzi as many as 300 at-bats this season between second base, shortstop and third base.
That leaves two more bench spots and four candidates: Bernadina, Carroll, Michaels and Chad Tracy. Conventional wisdom says the Nationals will go with one right-handed hitter (either Carroll or Michaels) and one left-handed hitter (either Bernadina or Tracy). Really, though, Johnson is just looking for the two guys he believes can best deliver offensively late in games.
CAN MICHAEL MORSE AND ADAM LaROCHE GET HEALTHY?
The Nationals can ill afford to lose either their No. 4 or No. 5 hitter for any period of time due to injury. They really can't afford to lose both, which is the case at the moment.
Morse has been dealing with a lat strain for two weeks now, and he's yet to appear in the field for any game because the injury affects his ability to throw. That's a problem. The Nationals have instructed Morse to take another week off, then believe he'll be ready to go and still have enough time to get himself prepared for Opening Day.
LaRoche, meanwhile, has been hampered by a sprained ankle that has lingered far longer than originally expected. He did return to the lineup last week but continues to feel the effects, so he too has been instructed to take the week off.
The Nationals can only hope the rest does the trick for both players and that each will have enough time to get back in the swing of things before the season opener.