The Nationals need Denard Span to get on base more

On Friday, Denard Span will face the only other team he has ever known. The Nationals host the Minnesota Twins for a three-game series beginning Friday and Span, 29, will leadoff and man center field against the team that drafted him in 2002, played him in the majors from 2008 to 2012 and traded him to Washington this winter.

In the first two disappointing months of the Nationals’ season, Span isn’t chief among the team’s concerns. He has played in 56 of the Nationals 59 games, played stellar defense in center field, perhaps even better than advertised, and gotten on base. The latter, however, is also part of his room for improvement.

At a time when the Nationals offense has sunk further into ineptitude, they need more of Span and his ability to get on base. While Jayson Werth was out for a month with a hamstring strain, the most glaring problem he noticed about the Nationals was their paltry on-base percentage. The Nationals are tied with the Marlins with a major league-worst .287 on-base percentage, bordering on historically low for the franchise.

The Nationals offense is among the worst in the majors in runs scored, batting average, slugging percentage, home runs and other offensive categories. (The Nationals have scored 201 runs, the second lowest totals in the majors.) And if the Nationals hope to push more runs across home plate, they need batters on base. It’s simple enough.

Span has cooled some since his first month or so of the season. After a series in Atlanta in the first week of May, Span was hitting .292, had driven in 11 runs, the second most on the team, and posted an on-base percentage of .364. Since then, as the Nationals’ sleepy offense sunk further, Span hit .244 (29 for 119) with an on-base percentage of .270.

Overall, Span is hitting .267 with an on-base percentage of .318, fourth best on the team behind Bryce Harper (.386), Ryan Zimmerman (.353) and Adam LaRoche (.335). The major league average on-base percentage is .318. He has drawn only 16 walks, tied for 26th among leadoff hitters. The Nationals are 13-10 in games this season in which Span reaches base at least twice.

To put it in perspective, consider the Nationals’ opponents. The Cincinnati Reds lead the majors with a .427 on-base percentage from their leadoff hitter (mostly Shin-Soo Choo) and thus have the ninth highest scoring offense in the majors (4.65 runs per game). The Oakland Athletics (.391) and the St. Louis Cardinals (.388) have the next best leadoff on-base percentages and coincidentally have the fourth and eighth highest scoring offenses, respectively.

Span has done well working opposing pitchers, a key to getting on base. He is seeing 4.03 pitches per plate appearance, 46th best in the majors, and higher than any previous seasons of higher on-base percentages. In his best seasons, 2008 and 2009, Span reached base at a .387 and .392 clip. Even last season, he posted an on-base percentage of .342.

But in order to resurrect a struggling offense that’s already without Bryce Harper, the Nationals need more runners on base, from Werth to Span to others. Span’s defense has been superb and he has been well-received by his Nationals teammates in his first months with his new team. Now, in order to change the course of a disappointing start of the season, they need more of his offense.

FROM THE POST

Bryce Harper to visit James Andrews for a second opinion on left knee injury, via Adam Kilgore and myself.

FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL

Ian Krol dazzles in nerve-wracking major league debut

The meaning of getting blown out

Nationals officially place Stephen Strasburg on DL, recall Xavier Cedeno

Ross Detwiler scheduled for rehab start, Stephen Strasburg set for simulated game

Thursday’s Nationals-Mets game postponed; Gio Gonzalez to start Friday

Danny Espinosa receives cortisone shot

Nationals would consider Sean Maenea at pick No. 68

Nationals select Jake Johansen with first draft choice

NATS MINOR LEAGUES

Syracuse was rained out.

Harrisburg was rained out.

Potomac was suspended after nine innings.

Hagerstown was rained out.

James Wagner joined the Post in August 2010 and, prior to covering the Nationals, covered high school sports across the region.
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