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Lombardozzi practicing for role as backup shortstop

Lombardozzi practicing for role as backup shortstop

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Steve Lombardozzi has already played quite a few positions in his brief Major League career. Shortstop is the least familiar of them.

He's about to get a crash course. The way the Tigers' bench projects to line up, there's a good chance Lombardozzi will be the primary backup to Jose Iglesias on the Opening Day roster. New manager Brad Ausmus' goal with him this spring is to prepare him for that likelihood.

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"I told him the first day [of full-squad workouts], 'We want you working at short and third,'" Ausmus said Thursday morning. "That doesn't mean he's not going to get his looks at second or maybe in left field, though we think left field is farther down the pecking order for him. But if Iglesias needs a couple days, we need a guy to play short."

It's a different spot for the Tigers, who had a natural shortstop on their bench for years. While the starting job has been a carousel ever since Carlos Guillen was moved out of that spot in 2008, Ramon Santiago was a constant. Detroit did not re-sign him as a free agent, and he ended up agreeing to a Minor League contract with the Reds just before Spring Training.

Instead of a true utility infielder, the Tigers are expected to go with two super-utility players in the switch-hitting Lombardozzi and veteran left-handed hitter Don Kelly. Ironically, Kelly came up through the Tigers' farm system as a shortstop, but isn't considered much more than an emergency option there at this point in his career, having turned 34 last weekend.

The 25-year-old Lombardozzi has very little experience at short at any level -- 20 games in the Minor Leagues, and one start there in 2011 and 2012. He's a natural second baseman who added playing time at third base and left field once he made it to the big leagues in Washington.

"He has played short. He hasn't played a ton of short," Ausmus said. "So we want to see him play short. We want him to be comfortable there. We want him to be comfortable at third, although we also have Don Kelly."

Iglesias, as long as he's healthy, isn't likely to need many days off at age 24. If he gets injured, the Tigers will have options down the road at Triple-A Toledo, including middle infield prospect Hernan Perez and utility infielder Danny Worth. Lombardozzi doesn't have to be able to cover shortstop for a stretch, but a day or two at a time would be enough.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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