If you are a Nationals fan with half a brain, you’ve come to love Steve Lombardozzi in 2012. The scrappy infielder has gone from being a borderline member of the opening day roster, to a indispensable singles machine that has played everywhere this season, including a few positions he had never played before in his life.
I won’t use the word “gamer” to describe him, as that term has become so stigmatized in recent years, but let’s say if we were on the sandlot, I’d pick him for my team no question. Hell, I’d even let him date my sister. Lombo, is no All-Star, but the versatility he brings to the team as well as his hot bat early on this season has made him an incredibly valuable member of this first place team.
But after a month of May where the 23-year-old hit an unsustainable .348/.392/.435, Lombo has struggled in June with a hopefully-equally-unsustainable .160/.222/.260 line. Suffice to say, it’s been a rough month at the plate for the Nats’ “other rookie.”
So what’s going on?
For starters, Lombardozzi has struck out at a much higher rate so far in June than he did in May. In 14 June games he’s whiffed nine times, where in 23 May games he struck out just twice. For an “ultra-contact” hitter, this is a big deal. To put this in perspective, his strikeout rate in June has been 16.7 percent, which is higher than he’s ever posted on a yearly basis at any level.
Throughout his brief baseball career, Lombo has been successful because he puts the ball in play often, and hits it hard when he does so. Aside from his first cup-of-coffee last season in Washington, he has posted a batting average of balls in play below .320 just once in his career. In May his BABIP was .348, in June it has been a dreadful .175. Part of this means he is likely getting unlucky, another part means he’s just not getting the solid contact he was earlier in the year.
Hopefully for Washington this is just a blip in the road for what was looking to be a very strong rookie season for Lombardozzi, instead of a more realistic snapshot of what to expect over the course of his career. No one was expecting him to be a .320 hitter forever, but if he can level out to be a solid .290/.340/.430 player, he can find a spot on the Nats roster each year simply due to his versatility.