Denard Span rides hot streak back to the leadoff spot


(Alex Brandon / AP)

Denard Span’s recent hot streak began July 14, the day Manager Davey Johnson moved him from his customary leadoff spot to seventh. Span smacked three hits that day, and in the 55 plate appearances since he has hit .358/.382/.547 with his only two home runs of the season. The timing of his best stretch of the season, Span said, should not be confused as the cause of it.

“I don’t think me hitting seventh helped my rhythm and my flow get better,” Span said. “I’ve been working on that in the cage. Me hitting seventh probably took a little pressure off me. It allowed me to slow the game down in the sense of my, by the time I get up, I’ve already seen what the pitcher is doing. I don’t have to go up there and try to have an at-bat for my teammates.”

Whether moving down the in the order sparked him, it led to his return to the top of the lineup. Manager Davey Johnson moved Span back to the top of the order tonight with a right-handed starter on the mound for the Brewers. All year long, Span has not felt comfortable with his swing. But that seems to be changing.

“I’m just feeling more comfortable with my strike zone judgment, timing, stuff like that,” Span said. “I was jumpy, just not smooth and on time. We’ve been working a lot lately on my rhythm and just slowing everything down, getting more flow. I’ve been feeling that.”

Hitting coach Rick Schu said earlier this week Span’s swing had become “piecey” – his lower body and his hands were moving separately.

“With Denard, he’s kind of a little bit out of whack,” Schu said. “He’s in pretty good position, seeing the ball. His swing wasn’t quite synched up. He’s been doing a better job of just relaxing, letting it all work together.”

The recent work earned him a trip back to the top of the order. Johnson said his progression will determine how long he stays there. For now, Johnson seems content to keep Span lower in the order against left-handed starters. While hitting seventh allowed Span to become more aggressive, he much prefers hitting first.

“I’ve hit leadoff for a long time – five years in the big leagues and another five  years in the minor leagues,” Span said. “My most comfortable I feel is hitting first. I know I can do it. I’ve been successful doing it. It still feels weird when I hit seventh. It always feels like I don’t get into the game until the second, third inning. Sometimes, I don’t get my second at-bat until the fourth inning, and then I finally feel like I’m in the game. Hitting leadoff, I feel like from the first pitch of the game, I’m ready to go.”

Span’s most frustrating struggles this year have come against left-handed pitchers. In his career before he arrived in Washington this year, Span had hit .292 against lefties, and his on-base percentage remains higher vs. left-handers than right-handers. But this year, he has hit .152/.212/.181.

Span said his issues with lefties are symptomatic of his rough overall offensive season. He always succeeded against lefties, he said, because he maintained a simple approach and kept his front shoulder closed. His out-of-whack swing has simply shown up more against left-handers.

As his swing has come around, Span has shown signs of improvement against left-handers, too. Friday night against lefty reliever Michael Gonzalez, Span fell behind 0-2, fouled away two pitches, took two balls and flicked a slider to left for a double.

“I know I can hit lefties,” Span said.

Adam Kilgore covers national sports for the Washington Post. Previously he served as the Post's Washington Nationals beat writer from 2010 to 2014.
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Adam Kilgore · August 3, 2013

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