- The Washington Times - Monday, September 15, 2014

ATLANTA — Coincidence is tough to quantify.

Take Denard Span. The Nationals‘ center fielder is approaching multiple career-highs this season. Coming into Monday night, he was seven hits short of his single-season best. He was one double off his career-high. Span’s 31 stolen bases are already a personal best.

Those totals are being built during what Span views as a contract year. The Nationals hold a $9 million option on Span for 2015, a decided increase from his $6.5 million this season. It would cost the club just $500,000 to buy out Span’s contract.

So, he’s piling up many of his strongest numbers since entering the league in 2008 with the Minnesota Twins as his future is up in the air. Coincidence.

June 30, Bryce Harper returned to the Nationals lineup after missing 59 games because of a torn ligament in his left thumb. When asked, he explained how he thought the lineup should be aligned. In Harper’s version, Ryan Zimmerman was playing left field, ostensibly meaning Harper would be in center and Span would be on the bench.

After hitting .259 in June, Span went bonkers in July, hitting .368 with a .459 on-base percentage. He’s hitting .340 since Harper’s comments. Monday, Span dispatched any thought that the subsequent tear was related to Harper’s comments.

SEE ALSO: Zimmerman back to games tomorrow

“I’ve said it before, I don’t need him or anybody else to motivate me or light a fire under me,” Span said. “I work pretty hard. I think it was definitely by coincidence that it seemed to happen the same time.”

There’s that word again. What’s not coincidence is the spot Span has held throughout the season helping the Nationals steam toward the National League East division title. He met with new manager Matt Williams in December of 2013 at baseball’s winter meetings in Orlando, Florida. Williams told him he would hit leadoff and play center.

“He made it pretty clear that was what my role was going to be,” Span said.

The start was rough. Span hit just .232 in April. Worse, his on-base percentage was .289. May was better at .296, then back down to .259 in June. The coincidental second-half run followed.

Each day, Span watches video of that night’s starter, plus his at-bats from the night before. He said there is nothing magical about the times he righted things after the typical dips a player goes through during the season.

“Just staying the course,” Span said. “Trusting the process. It sounds all cliche and all that. It really is the truth, man. Even early on in the season I felt like I was probably swinging the bat probably better than my average said, what my numbers said. Just talking with our hitting coach Rick Schu, every day. Keep working and stay the course. That’s all I did and I was able to hit a stride.”

If the Nationals move on from Span following the season, which appears unlikely, it will be the first time the 30-year-old will enter free agency. He was drafted in 2002 then traded by the Minnesota Twins to the Nationals in 2012. For once, he would have a touch of control over his future.

“Free agency’s intriguing to most ballplayers. I can’t say all ballplayers,” Span said. “A lot of guys are afraid of free agency. There’s a lot of uncertainty. Any time, as a player, where the roles are reversed, I guess you could say and you have an opportunity … you have a little power, I guess you could say … to determine where you want go, what you want to do, you know, for the future. Just from talking with other players, it’s a good feeling when you’ve worked hard and you’ve gotten to that point where you can make those decisions.

“Obviously, want to get what you’re worth. First and foremost. I’d like to play on the East Coast. I would play anywhere, to be honest, as long as I’m treated fairly. To me, those are the biggest things in this game: being treated fairly and being compensated for what I’ve done.”

When that happens, it won’t be coincidence.

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