The Washington Nationals have scored 23 runs in their last two games, and that production has brought with it the hope that perhaps they’re shedding the remnants of the offensive doldrums that have plagued them for much of the season’s first half.
Bryce Harper’s return helped boost the Nationals in a 10-run outburst on Monday night, but he was just a small part of that production.
And one of the most encouraging signs for the Nationals of late is the improvements by leadoff man Denard Span. On Monday night, Span was 1-for-3 with a double and two walks. In his last 12 games, Span is hitting .326 with a .380 on-base percentage and six extra-base hits in that span.
“(Monday night) was vintage me,” Span said. “Seeing pitches. I didn’t get fooled too much. Whenever you see me seeing a lot of pitches like that, drawing walks, that’s what I do. Hopefully that lets me know I’m getting closer to where I need to be.
“We’ve still got a lot of baseball left, and like I’ve been telling everyone from Day 1, every day I come here I’m trying to get better and better. Hopefully I’m turning the corner. Still not where I want to be, but the last few days and (Monday) was a good night.”
Span has worked for much of this season to find comfort at the plate. For a stretch through May and June, Span fouled multiple balls off his right foot — a painful result of what he felt was some of that discomfort at the plate. He thought it might be mechanics, manager Davey Johnson said it was his timing.
Whatever it was, Span has not been fouling balls off his foot lately. (He also knocks on wood every time that fact is brought up to him.) And he’s worked to improve. Span’s often stood in on bullpen sessions, tracking the pitches as they come out of his teammates hands while they get their between-starts work in, and working in the batting cages.
Johnson has seen progress in his center fielder, too.
“Sometimes guys, when they go the other way, they have a different stroke than they do when they pull the ball,” Johnson said. “And really, it’s the same stroke when you go the other way. His swing when he goes the other way is a little longer and it’s deeper. That’s not the way you want to hit the ball. (You want it to be) the same swing as the pull swing. And he’s been more consistent with that.
“(Batting practice) is where you need to work on your stroke and he’s been a lot better. His best strokes this year have been when he pulled the ball. When he went up the middle the other way they weren’t as short and to the ball. Here lately, in New York, he took a ball on the outside part of the plate and rifled it to left field. That’s the stroke he needs.”
With the Nationals close to having their lineup fully healthy, Span getting on base at the top of it would have an obviously positive effect on their ability to produce runs.
Monday night, all three times Span got on base the Nationals drove him in.
“Hitting definitely is contagious,” Span said. “I think it’s an epidemic. It kind of just spreads. And hopefully we can keep it going. It’s a lot more fun when we’re batting around and having good at-bats and getting the starting pitcher out of the game like (Monday).”