When Denard Span’s 29-game hitting streak came to an end last season, he walked into the clubhouse at Nationals Park and exhaled.
Sure, he was disappointed to see the streak end, especially one game short of matching Ryan Zimmerman’s team record of 30. But he was also incredibly relieved. The daily pressure of maintaining a streak, the media attention before and after every game — it was a weight, now finally lifted.
“You know what?” Span said then. “Now I can move on.”
Entering Friday’s series-opener in Atlanta, Span is in the midst of another impressive streak nearly one year after his last one began. With three hits in Thursday’s thrilling 5-3 win over the Mets in 13 innings, Span has now reached base in 33 consecutive games, a streak that spans parts of three months and matches the third-longest streak in the major leagues this season.
Span hasn’t played two full seasons with the Nationals, but he already holds two of the four longest on-base streaks in team history. His secret?
“I couldn’t tell you man. I really couldn’t tell you,” Span said, shaking his head. “I think it’s more just coincidence that the last two years, I’ve been able to go on a little bit of a run.”
Coincidence may have something to do with it. But Span also has displayed the kind of approach that make him more susceptible to streaks than other players.
After struggling at the beginning of his Nationals tenure, Span started working in the batting cages with new hitting coach Rick Schu, who joined the team after the all-star break. The focus in their sessions was “fluididity,” a made-up word used by Schu to describe a comfortable, natural swing.
It was easier for Span to repeat such a swing, and it also helped put his mind at ease. It made him a more consistent hitter, both mechanically and mentally, and still shows in his at-bats today.
“Denard’s not going to change his approach, regardless of whether the streak ends or it continues the next 50 games,” Nationals manager Matt Williams said. “I don’t see anything changing. It’s his approach. It’s the way he’s going about it.”
Span is not a flashy hitter. All three of his hits Thursday were rolling grounders through the middle of the infield. But with each hit, his streak stays alive. And with each streak, the Nationals become a more dangerous team.
In the 62 games during Span’s 2013 hitting streak and his current on-base streak, he has scored or knocked in a total of 60 runs. Washington is 42-20 during that stretch.
Span’s consistent production at the top of the lineup gives the Nationals a better chance to win, but winning also helps him stay consistent.
“When we’re winning, it cures a lot of the things,” he said. “It’s more relaxing. It’s more fun.”
When Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman returned from injury, Harper was asked by reporters how he would arrange the outfield. He suggested that he play center field, his preferred position, with Zimmerman in left and Jayson Werth in right, leaving Span as the odd man out.