Determined as he was to reproduce over a full season what he was able to do in the final two months of his first year in the nation's capital, Washington Nationals' center fielder Denard Span struggled to a .233/.295/.314 line in his first 96 plate appearances in 2014. Three weeks later, after a 5 for 5 game against the Cincinnati Reds on May 20th, the Nats' 30-year-old leadoff man was up to a .263/.308/.363 line. A 17-game stretch in which he put up a .297/.325/.418 line in 77 PAs helped him start to turn things around.
Impressive as he was in the five-hit game against the Reds, Nats' skipper Matt Williams cautioned against reading too much into a single game or short stretch.
"It really doesn't mean much other than tonight," Williams told reporters. "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."
Span has continued to produce since that night. In the last 13 games, the former Minnesota Twins' outfielder is 20 for 59 (.339/.371/.492) with six doubles, a home run, three walks and just one K in 62 plate appearances and he's hit in each of the last seven games, going 14 for 33 (.424/.441/.545) with four doubles over that stretch with the Nationals 5-2 as a team in the last week.
On the year, Span has a .283/.325/.397 line after going 1 for 4 with a run scored in the series finale with the Phillies on Thursday.
Matt Williams said yesterday Denard Span is "the guy that really has made us go." In games in which Span reaches base twice, Nats are 17-9.— James Wagner (@JamesWagnerWP) June 6, 2014
Though Williams cautioned against reading too much into one game after Span's 5 for 5 game against the Reds he did say then that he saw signs that the veteran outfielder was figuring things out at the plate.
"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," the first-year skipper said. "That's kind of a telltale sign that he's seeing it good."
Span's not the only one seeing the ball well in the last week.
The Nationals wrapped up their eight-game homestand with a win over the Phillies yesterday, and won five of their last six while outscoring their opponents 38-12 over that stretch with the only loss coming in the finale of the three-game set with the Rangers, which saw Yu Darvish dominate opposing hitters in a series-salvaging win for Texas.
The Phillies couldn't avoid getting swept by the Nationals in the finale of the series which wrapped up yesterday. The Nats outscored the Phillies 19-6 over the last three games.
Williams said after the series finale that there were a number of factors which led to the recent run of success for the Nationals, who now head out on a 10-game, three-city road trip that takes them to San Diego, San Francisco and St. Louis.
"For me, with the exception of last night," he qualified, "I think our defense has been really good and certainly our starting pitching. You can't expect to score as many runs as we did in the first two games of the series every night, but I think Anthony [Rendon's] swing has come back. Jayson [Werth] is getting back on the ball a little bit. Certainly Adam [LaRoche] is swinging well. [Ryan Zimmerman], of course, but the guy that really has made us go is Denard. And we're playing really well."
Span helped make the Nationals go late last season too. During his sustained run of success at the plate in the last month and a half of the season, he put together a 29-game hit streak, going 46 for 124 with five doubles, two triples and two home runs over that stretch, which saw him post a .371/.406/.492 line. Span finished out the season with a .338/.375/.459 stretch over the final 39 games of the year.
The Nationals' late-season run coincided with Span's. They were 27-12 over that stretch. Maybe this season both Span and the Nats can heat up early enough that it's not in vain.