Why Denard Span keeps fouling balls off his foot


Patrick Semansky/AP

Denard Span walked through the Nationals’ clubhouse this afternoon, past the lineup card without his name, with black tape wrapped out his right foot. He needed to sit for another game because he had, for the third time this season, fouled a pitch off the top of his foot and contributed to a deep bruise.

Span, who hopes to return tomorrow, received treatment on his foot but no X-rays. He also landed on an explanation for why he keeps fouling pitches off his foot. He could not remember once fouling a pitch directly off the top of his foot in his 10 professional seasons prior to this one. Now, he has done it three times in a matter of two and a half months.

When Span watched video of himself at the plate, it made sense. The meetings of baseball and foot were not chance misfortune, but the symptom of a swing gone astray.

“I know why it is,” Span said. “My swing right now is not good.”

Span said he is “getting around the ball” when he swings, which means he is straightening his arms early in the swing rather than taking a direct path to the hitting zone. Manager Davey Johnson insisted Span’s mechanics were fine and his timing needed improvement.

“Either way, it’s something to do with my swing,” Span said. “I’ve never done this before.”

In spring training, Span and hitting coach Rick Eckstein adjusted his swing so it more closely resembled the form he used in 2009, his best offensive season. Back then, Span said he felt good about the change. During the season, though, Span has yet to find comfort.  He is hitting .256 with a .312 on-base percentage, 25 and 41 points below his career averages.

“I’m a grinder,” Span said. “I find a way to get hits, whether it’s beating out an infield hit or doing whatever. My hand-eye coordination is pretty good. I haven’t felt up to my capabilities swinging-wise all year.”

Said Johnson: “His tendency, with a lot of our guys, we let the ball get too deep and the timing is off, you let it get too deep, you’re liable to hit your foot. But the old rule of thumb: hit the ball out in front of the plate. When you do that, you don’t hit your foot. He thought his mechanics were a little off. His mechanics aren’t off. His timing is off.”

Adam Kilgore covers the Nationals for The Washington Post.
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James Wagner · June 17, 2013