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Denard Span returns to Nationals' lineup in 4-1 win over Phillies

Washington Nationals' center fielder Denard Span missed twelve games, but the 31-year-old outfielder returned from the DL on Sunday, giving the Nats back their leadoff man. Is he 100% right now? Maybe not, but he's back and his presence is felt.

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

"It was great having Denard back out there in center," Stephen Strasburg said after Washington Nationals' leadoff man and center fielder Denard Span returned from the DL on Sunday.

Span, 31, was back in the lineup after missing the first 12 games as he recovered from surgery to repair a right core muscle injury.

"I think [the] clubhouse, just having a guy like him, have his presence here," Strasburg continued, "I think it lifted everybody up and everybody played great."

Strasburg, and manager Matt Williams before him in his own post game press conference, were clear that they weren't disparaging anyone else, particularly 24-year-old outfielder Michael Taylor, when they talked about how important Span's return was to the team.

"No offense to anybody, but it was normal -- more normal today. With Denard at the top of it, in center field, it feels like normalcy." - Matt Williams on Denard Span's return from the DL

"I think that guys that are here to fill in, they did a great job and they left it all out there on the field," Strasburg said.

"So you can't ask for more, but in the same sense, when you see the same guys around you and you get that familiarity, I think guys don't feel like they have to press as much."

"No offense to anybody," Williams said, "but it was normal -- more normal today. With Denard at the top of it, in center field, it feels like normalcy. That's a good feeling. Michael [Taylor] played really well when he was here, but today was a little step back to where we had planned it all along."

Taylor, before he was optioned to Triple-A to make room for Span on Sunday morning, put up a .271/.314/.500 line with three doubles, a triple and two home runs in 12 games and 51 plate appearances, over which he took three walks and piled up 19 Ks.

Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo told reporters, including's Chase Hughes, that Taylor needs to play every day after he made a strong impression in his second stint at the major league level:

"'I thought he handled himself brilliantly. [He had] some youthful mistakes, but the ability level is there. [There was] usefulness of putting him into a major league setting and he took to it very well.'"

Span's back with the Nationals now, though Williams admitted that they might not have the "full Span" right now.

Like Yunel Escobar said recently, in talking about his own abilities, there might be more Span to come.

"I don't know if he's full speed at this point, but he doesn't think about it and it doesn't hurt so that's the only thing that matters to us." -Matt Williams on Denard Span's return to the lineup

"I think he's fine," Williams said. "I don't think he thinks about it which is key for us. So if he's out there playing the game, and just strictly playing and not having to think about, 'Boy, I need to go to this gap and catch a ball,' or whatever it is, then we're fine with that and he's fine with that. I don't know if he's full speed at this point, but he doesn't think about it and it doesn't hurt so that's the only thing that matters to us."

Whether or not he's at full-strength, Span said he's happy to be back on the field and in the lineup after two offseason surgeries and six months or hard work while he rehabbed.

"It feels good, to be honest with you," Span said before Sunday's series finale with the Phillies.

"Didn't think that it would be this soon. It's been a tough road. Tough six months for me. But I'm happy to be able to get on the field today and just get back to doing what I love doing."

Span's 2014 campaign, in part at least, convinced the Nationals to pick up his $9M option for 2015.

He put up a .302/.355/.416 line last season, with 39 doubles, eight triples, five home runs and 31 stolen bases in 147 games and 668 plate appearances, over which he was worth +4.0 fWAR.

"D-Span was a guy that I thought was a better hitter the last day of the season than he was when we first got him," Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier after the Nats picked up Span's option this winter.

"I see his career path as a guy that is still a very vital player and has a great skill set and what you lose with another year of age, you gain in experience," Rizzo said.

"And I think D-Span has been a guy who has really grown in his role as a leadoff man and defensive stalwart in the outfield and is a guy that has a lot of good years left."

Span began what might be his final season in D.C. on Sunday.

With Jayson Werth back, the Nationals are just one player away from having their expected every day lineup on the field...