Washington Nationals' skipper Matt Williams spent a few minutes during his pregame meeting this afternoon discussing the thinking behind keeping 30-year-old outfielder Denard Span atop the Nats' order.
He said he has considered moving other players to the leadoff spot, but right now he's sticking with Span.
"'I see what he can do on any given day to help us win,'" Williams told reporters including the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore. "'I also see the phenomenal plays he’s making in center field like very few in this game can do. So the whole package for me is quality. We need him in our lineup every single day and as many times as he can play.'"
Of course, Williams admitted, he would like to be getting better production out of Span, and something closer to Span's .348 career OBP, which, of course, is propped up by his .390 OBP from his first two major league seasons.
Nats' GM Mike Rizzo described Span, after acquiring the outfielder from the Twins in November of 2012, as, "...a true defensive ballhawk center field type of guy with great range."
"Sabermetrically and with a scout's eye," Rizzo said, Span is, "... a front line defensive center fielder."
At the plate, Rizzo said he saw Span as a, "... high average guy, .350 OBP-type of guy," who, "... doesn't strike out," or is at least, "... one of the tougher guys in the league to strike out."
Since 2010, and before tonight's game, Span's put up a combined .271/.329/.368 line over 541 games and 2,414 plate appearances.
When the Nationals' center fielder and leadoff man went on his second-half run last season, putting up a .302/.337/.414 line with eight doubles, four triples and four home runs in the final 64 games and 272 plate appearances in 2013, he was exactly the sort of player the Nationals thought they were acquiring from the Twins.
Throughout his time with the Nationals he's been every bit the defense ballhawk of a defender in center field that the Nats wanted when they acquired him, but even he said this winter that he was only able to produce at the plate for short stretch, though it convinced him he's capable of doing it.
"I'm just concentrating on being consistent like that for the course of the season," Span said. "I look at it, I played good for a month of the season last year and how I finished, if I can do that for an extended period of time, I think it will be a good summer for myself and my teammates."
He entered Tuesday night's game against the Cincinnati Reds and right-hander Johnny Cueto with a .239/.287/.329 line, eight doubles and three triples in the first 168 plate appearances of his second season in the nation's capital.
Span went 5 for 5 with two doubles, two runs scored, two RBIs and a stolen base in the Nationals' 9-4 win.
After the game, he was up to a .263/.308/.363 line.
"Those are special," Nats' skipper Matt Williams said of Span's big night. "Those don't happen very often, so good for him."
The Nationals' manager said he's seen positive signs from Span, but it was just one game.
"From talking today with you guys and looking back at last year, he started a really good streak in the second-half of last year," Williams explained. "So certainly it can get him going. It really doesn't mean much other than tonight though. He's still got to prepare and do all the things that he does every day to go out there and play. But sure, it's a special night for him."
Asked if he saw anything different from Span that led to the big game, Williams said, "No."
"Pretty much the same. He hit two balls the other way, which is good. He did that last night a little bit too, which I think is the telling thing for him. If he stays on the baseball and is able to hit the ball to left field then he's seeing it good, he's waiting for the ball. That's kind of a telltale sign that he's seeing it good."
Span's speed forced Reds' third baseman Ramon Santiago to rush to make a play and the infielder's errant throw to first base allowed Fister to score and tie it up at 1-1. Span took third on the throwing error and scored on a sac fly by Anthony Rendon to give the Nationals a lead they never relinquished.
Span singled and scored the next time up when the Nationals rallied in the seventh and doubled in two runs later in that inning as the Nats batted around. His second double of the night was a pop fly to center that dropped into the outfield grass for a hit. The speed and aggressive approach at the plate were familiar from his late-season run last summer, but Span hasn't produced the same results consistently enough so far in his year-plus in Washington.
"It's part of his game," Williams said of the speed on display. "Part of his game is, like he did tonight, laying down a bunt and beating it out and causing a potential mistake and also scoring from first and stealing second and playing fantastic center field. Like I said earlier today, we're very happy to have him."
When the Nationals acquired Span he was heading into the fourth year of the 5-year/$16.5M extension he signed with the Twins in 2010.
There is a is a $9M club option for 2015 or a $0.5M buyout.
• Watch Span's 5-Hit Game Highlights: