- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 25, 2015

It’s tough to tell if the grey in Denard Span’s beard has increased. The lighter flecks among the black were there earlier in the season. When he spoke about returning to the Washington Nationals’ lineup on Tuesday, after his second trip to the disabled list this season, the discoloration around his chin had appeared to increase.

Span’s eighth big-league season has been lurching, aggravating and possibly a money-losing effort. An offseason surgery on his abdomen wiped out his winter work time. He started the season on the disabled list before debuting April 19 because of a second surgery. He made it until July 6, when he was placed back on the disabled list because of what the club called “back tightness.”

In the final year of his contract, Span was reinstated to the 25-man roster on Tuesday afternoon after six rehabilitation games, only one of which was a nine-inning effort. Tanner Roark was optioned to Single-A Potomac, where he will work as a starter, to make room for Span on the roster.

Span’s irritation with the calendar showing Aug. 25 and his games-played total at a career-low 59 is expansive. He couldn’t single out a most the most downtrodden part.

“Just everything,” Span said. “I don’t even know where to start. I don’t think we’ve got enough tape for me to explain how difficult this has been.”

Span’s return provides the Nationals with their projected opening-day lineup for the first time this season. He led off Tuesday night in the series opener against the San Diego Padres. Jayson Werth was moved from leadoff, where he thrived the prior week, to second. Anthony Rendon hit third. Bryce Harper was fourth. Yunel Escobar hit fifth after missing the previous two games after injuring his neck.

Span said the surgeries were the precursors to his back problems. During the 40 games he missed because of an uncooperative back, Span worked to strengthen “everything.” He tried to reactivate muscles that became dormant after his surgeries. Because of them, Span moved in a way his body was unaccustomed to, he said.

“My stabilizers, my body not functioning correctly because when I did have the surgery, it did shut down some things down in my core,” Span said. “Then I started compensating and doing things I’ve never done with my body, asking my body to do more significant movements.”

Since he played nine innings only once, Span said he still has work to do to be in game shape. Considering the predicament the Nationals are in, starting the night 5.5 games behind the surging New York Mets in the National League East, Span and the Nationals each decided it was time for him to join the team.

“I’m not going to feel my best this time of year with everything I’ve had to go through,” Span said. “But, I felt confident enough to say, ‘Let’s go up here,’ to come back and do what I can do.”

Span’s return puts rookie Michael A. Taylor on the bench and opens options. Taylor had shown exquisite defense in center field. He’s now available as a late-game defensive replacement, most likely for Werth in left field, providing the Nationals with a fleet outfield of Taylor, Span and Harper. With 13 home runs in 372 at-bats, Taylor could also provide power off the bench.

“I know I’m not playing [on Tuesday],” Taylor said. “Past that, I’m not sure. I just kind of get ready every day and come in there. If I’m in there, I’ll play, if not, I’ll be ready to come off the bench. I have to imagine [Span will] play every day. My job is just to be ready.”

Danny Espinosa can be used around the infield. With Taylor and Espinosa at his disposal, manager Matt Williams goes from having a four-man bench with little versatility to a multifaceted five-man group. Recent call-up Trea Turner is viewed as additional speed off the bench.

After winning 15 games with a 2.85 ERA last season, Roark was squeezed out of the rotation and worked as the long man out of the bullpen. Rookie Joe Ross has thrown 136 2/3 innings this season, including 60 2/3 with Washington, for the most of his career. The Nationals would like to manage his workload down the stretch, though Ross said after his last game — one run allowed in seven innings on Saturday against the Colorado Rockies — that he felt strong. Roark is the likely candidate to take Ross’ spot if the rookie begins to fatigue.

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