Spanning in Harrisburg: Denard Span in His First Rehab Start

Denard Span began his rehab assignment with AA Harrisburg today.

I saw the news about this around lunchtime, and a thought in the back of my head said, "Y'know, you could go to that." Another thought said, "But I was planning on going home and listening to the Nationals game on the radio." The first thought answered back, "If you leave work early, you could make the game." The second thought replied, "Or I could get stuck in traffic, either leaving Baltimore, or going through York, or in the Harrisburg approach. And what would leaving early do then?"

Around 3 o'clock I decided. Leave at 4:30, first pitch at 6:30, two hours should be plenty for a trip that should — should! — take about an hour thirty. (I live equidistant between my office and Metro Bank Park.) I left at 4:30 and walked through the gates at Metro Bank Park at 5:55. Honestly, I think I was just plain lucky.

But I also know now that I can make a midweek game in Harrisburg from the office. I'd never done that before. All of the midweek Senators games I've attended have been on days I've asked off. (In the past two years, when I've wanted to go to a midweek game, I've gone to a York Revolution game.)

I'm not going to do much of a recap of the game between the Senators and the Bowie Baysox. That wasn't why I went. I wanted to see how Span looked in the field and on the basepaths. I wanted to see how he fielded. I wanted to see how he fared at the plate. Basically, I wanted to see how he moved.

However, here'e the short story on the game. The Baysox scored in the first. In the bottom of the fourth, the Senators sent nine men to the plate and scored four runs. The Baysox scored three more runs in the top of the fifth off of Austin Voth to tie the game. In the bottom of the fifth, Matt Skole hit a grand slam (and finally chased the Baysox starter, Tim Berry) to make the score 8-4 in favor of the Senators, and that's how the score stayed to the end.

And I'll tackle some other non-Span issues as we go.

Denard Span

Span was warming up on the field and stretching when I settled into a spot in the first base bleachers. (Metro Bank Park was rather deserted, and I could have had a ticket anywhere, but the bleachers afforded me the views and angles I wanted.) He did some sprints. He didn't appear to be moving with any obvious discomfort.

In the top of the first, Span played two balls on the bounce, first a fly to shallow center that landed in front of him by Mike Yastrzemski, then a line drive by Derrik Gibson.

Span led off in the bottom of the first. He took the first two pitches — a ball, then a called strike — and one was inside that forced him to back away from it. He then hit into a 6-3, making solid contact with the ball and running to first with no obvious problems.

Span's next chance in the outfield came in the top of the third. Mike McDade hit a flyball into shallow center, and it drew fielders like a moth to a flame, with Stephen Perez running in from short, Tony Renda running in from second, and Kevin Keyes coming in from left. It was quiet enough in Metro Bank Park that you could hear Span call them all off as he sprinted in.

In Span's next at-bat in the bottom of the 3rd, he took two pitches, both called strikes, the first again inside and forcing him to back away. He then fouled off a pitch, and then grounded into a 6-3. Again, solid contact and no obvious physical discomfort.

Span's next at-bat came in the bottom of the 4th. The Senators had scored four run already this inning, there were two outs, Matt Skole was on third, and Adrian Sanchez was on first. Span took the first three pitches — two balls followed by a called strike. On the next pitch, he flew out to left.

My phone's autocorrect had fun with Skole's name:

In the top of the fifth, Span fielded a line drive from Sharlon Schoop. With runners on the corners and one out, Span then fielded a sacrifice fly by Derrik Gibson and made no throw to the plate to attempt to cut down the runner. Finally, to end the inning, he had to range to his left to catch a fly into shallow left center by Mike McDade, again calling off (loudly) Kevin Keyes and Tony Renda. He had a good read off the bat and ran an efficient route.

Span's fourth at-bat came in the bottom of the sixth. Facing Gene Escat, Span hit a line drive to center on the first pitch he saw. He then took some generous leads off of first, I even thought he might attempt a steal, but Escat made no pick-off attempts during Perez's or Renda's at-bats.

Span played center field again in the top of the seventh, but he had no chances. When he came off the field, I was pretty sure his day was done, and I stood and applauded as he came in. There wasn't anyone else around me, unfortunately, and I suspect there weren't many in the stands who knew that Span's day was done.

My overall impression is that Span is close to coming back to the Nationals. He made contact in every at-bat. His fielding skills were there, and he was running the bases and field with no obvious problems.

Matt Skole

I wasn't terribly impressed with Matt Skole in his 2014 season in the times I saw him play. At the plate, he seemed lost, and his defense made no impression upon me.

After two games (admittedly, a small sample size) this season, I'm sold.

I was concerned tonight because he was batting in the #7 spot. (In Sunday's game, he was in the #3 spot.) But he ended up being in a critical spot throughout the game. He grounded out in his first at-bat, hit an RBI single past the second baseman in his second, hit a grand slam (which there was no doubt about as soon as it left the bat) in his third at-bat, and struck out in his fourth at-bat after fouling off a few balls. Sunday's game was similar; making contact, getting on base, having good at-bats. So, the thing at the plate that I wasn't sure he had figured out last year I feel like he's getting it put together. I'm now curious to see how he'll handle Syracuse, and if he keeps hitting this way, I wonder when he'll be sent north.

I've also noticed his defense in the two games I've seen thus far. Perez and Renda, I hate to say, aren't feeding him good throws at first. Perez's throws are maybe a little better than Renda's, but both have a tendency to either throw high or (Renda especially) bounce a throw in the dirt. Skole is picking about half of these errant throws, but then there's a play like in the top of the fifth today where a 4-6-3 didn't go off because (in this case) Perez shorthopped the ball to Skole and it bounced over him. This wasn't scored an error, though I would have scored it so. It ended up leading to three runs — a sac fly and then a two-run home run. While Renda and Perez could improve their feeds to first on a double play, their errant throws may have the benefit of making Skole especially adept at picking them.

Austin Voth

I'll start with this Tweet:

Really, he does. He may wear #37, but on the mound he seems much more like #27. His stance, his poise, et cetera and so on.

Overall, I thought he pitched a good game, despite giving up four runs. Except for the mistake pitch that resulted in a home run, nothing was really hit especially hard, but he did induce a lot of contact to the point where I almost want to say that he had a pitch-to-contact gameplan.

Hopefully I'll get another look at Voth this summer.

Other Senators Pitching

Voth was replaced by Robert Benincasa; he pitched two scoreless innings and had three strikeouts. (By comparison, Voth pitched six innings, and also had three strikeouts.) I thought Benincasa looked quite impressive, though he was more efficient in the seventh than he was in the eighth.

Benincasa gave way to Paul Demny in the ninth. I had forgotten that Demny was still in the Nationals organization. He faced four batters and threw two wild pitches.

The Experience

A midweek Senators game! The last midweek Senators game I attended was the final game of the 2013 Eastern League Championship Series. It wasn't anything like the weekend games I generally attend.

The crowd was small — just 1,700. In the bleachers, there were only five of us total, and by the end of the game there were only two. It was depresing to look out and see sections that were completely empty. But, but, but... that's how minor league baseball is, especially in the middle of the week, especially in April.

The crowd had a different feeling than a weekend crowd. It was an older crowd. There weren't many children. Those that were in the crowd were yelling at the umpires a lot; some of them took offense to Baysox submariner Ben Rowen and his delivery. They seemed more aware of the players and their names.

I had the feeling that the crowd wanted to be there, that they weren't there because of some giveaway or contest or because their organization was singing the Star-Spangled Banner.

And, thankfully, no "God Bless America" in the seventh inning stretch.

Final Thoughts

My impression of Span at today's Senators game is that he's close to returning to the Nationals. I don't expect him to be 100% when he comes back because he missed spring training due to his surgeries, but he'll work through what he missed, get up to speed, and be there within the next week.

Voth is worth watching. And Skole will make the jump to Syracuse before too long.

And, if, for some reason, there's a need to go to a Harrisburg Senators game during the week, I don't have to take the day off from work. I can just leave the office early. :)

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