The Washington Times - April 5, 2013, 05:52PM

CINCINNATI — Early Friday afternoon, Washington Nationals center fielder Denard Span, infielder Steve Lombardozzi and first base coach Tony Tarasco stood on the infield dirt near second base at Great American Ball Park. 

While Span and Lombardozzi watched, Tarasco demonstrated certain footwork in taking leads from second base. Then Span stepped in to try it himself. Tarasco commented. Span tried again. 

SEE RELATED:


They went on like that for a few minutes, part of an ongoing progression that started in spring training for Span as he works to become a better base stealer. 

“(I’m) just trying to evolve in being a better base stealer in general,” Span said later. “I can tell you that in the short time I’ve been here, this is the most I’ve ever spent on hands-on (work) as far as becoming a better base stealer.

“In Minnesota, we talked about it a lot. Not to say we didn’t work on it, but so far, and it’s still only the second series of the season, we’ve done a lot.”

Tarasco said he they were mostly working on footwork during the drills, the central idea being to work to “get him to top speed a little sooner.” Tarasco and third base coach Trent Jewett have also been working with Span on figuring out when to attempt a steal, and a lot of that has to do with scouting and knowing the opponent.

To this point, Span, who has a green light form the coaching staff, has relied more on Tarasco and Jewett for “when to run” than he may as the season progresses and he gains confidence, as well as a more firm grasp of the pitchers in the league and their various moves.

“I told them I needed that help to maybe get my confidence up,” Span said. “Once I get going a little bit I might not need them as much but early on I want them to help me with that.”

“He’ll eventually move away from us,” Tarasco said. 

Span has been diligent about his work, Tarasco said, and he’s already seen improvements from him.

Span, who has reached base in half of his plate appearances already this season, has never stolen more than 26 bases in a season. He said from the first day he arrived at spring training that he believed, with his ability, that number could definitely be higher. That said, he’s also never had a stolen base percentage lower than 70 — and he’d like to keep that number steady or improve it.

“I think most good base stealers are usually at least 75-80 percent,” Span said, though admitting that the total number of steals does catch the eye before the percentage.

“I don’t want to just go just to be going. I want to go at ideal times and also to help the team. It’s not about me stealing 60-70 bases. That would be nice but if I can steal 25-35 and it helps our ballclub, those stolen bases are meaningful, and it’s a good percentage, that’d be fine with me.

Can Span become a guy who can steal 50 or 60 bases? It’s impossible to say with certainty, but the Nationals feel he’s got more of a ceiling in that department. That’s clear. 

“I think he’s going to get even better,” Tarasco said. 

On Thursday, Jayson Werth talked a little bit about how he and Span are still getting to know one another as players, both in the outfield as well as the lineup. Eventually Werth will probably have a better idea of when Span would like to run when he’s on base in front of him, and Span will understand what Werth’s trying to do in an at-bat as well.

That’s an ongoing process, too. 

“We had a small conversation the other day, but I’m not going to tell him to take too many pitches for me,” Span said. “It’s not like I’ve stolen 50-60 bases. If I feel like I can get it, I’m going to try to go. I would preferably like to go early in the count so that he’s not put in a hole at the plate.”

“I’m not pushing them to steal, unless they feel like they can get a good jump,” said manager Davey Johnson. “I was out here early, I saw him out working on his leads and his jumps. It’s just a good sign. But we’re going to use every weapon we have, and we have a lot of guys who have speed. So I won’t put the noose on them.”