Denard Span’s hitting streak leads to his ‘best season’

(Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

(Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

The numbers don’t matter to Denard Span, but the way they came to be does. In black and white he has better years, but he never had to play through the adjustments necessary in a new setting, and he never had to rebound from such a rotten beginning. That’s what matters to him.

“Honestly, no matter where I end up, I can look at it already on Sept. 10 and say this is probably my best season of my career,” Span said. “Just considering what I’ve been through.”

Span extended his hitting streak to 21 games last night, and over that span he has hit .402/.436/.563 to raise his once-floundering season averages to .281/.330/.387. He’s close to his career norms in average and slugging and still a ways off on his on-base percentage. His career-best offensive season in 2009 was far better by statistical measures. To Span, though, this year has meant more.

“Just all the first-time experiences, all the stuff like that,” Span said. “Just to be where I’m at, I can look back and say this is probably the most — even though it’s not done yet, I’ve still got a lot of work to do — but it’s probably one of the most gratifying, so far. I’ll be able to better answer that when the season’s over. But to this point, yeah. I’ve learned a lot about myself.”

Span’s improvement this season came after Rick Schu replaced Rick Eckstein as the Nationals’ hitting coach. Span thinks that is not a coincidence. First base coach Tony Tarasco chimed in with advice on how to use his bottom hand in his swing to improve his rhythm. With Schu, Span developed a 10-15 minute routine that helped his timing and simplified his approach.

Span also credited third base coach Trent Jewett with an important observation.

“He kind of put things in perspective as far as my whole game,” Span said. “’Defensively, I watch you shag during BP. You take shagging pretty seriously.’ I’m not out there diving for balls. Maybe 5-10 minutes for one group. I’m shagging or taking two or three hard steps and getting my work in and get out of there. But hitting, he would see me go in there for 45 minutes and he was like, ‘You’re probably overworking yourself. You’re confident in your defense and you know what you need to do. Balance it out.’ At the time, I was like: I’m struggling, so whatever. Now that I’ve taken less swings, I kind of understand what he was talking about.”

Another change came in Span’s approach. He long prided himself on being patient and taking pitches, but he came to realize pitchers were only taking advantage of him. He wasn’t being disciplined; he was just setting himself up to hit behind in the count. Span said he may go back to his old patience if pitchers adjust to him, but for now he’s hacking when he sees a strike.

“For so many years, I took strike one,” Span said. “I’ve been trying to get on base or whatever and hitting behind the count. But if they’re going to keep throwing me strike one, fastballs, I’m going to be aggressive. Gio [Gonzalez], I think it was my third hit [Monday night], he led off and he said, ‘I’m swinging at the first pitch.’ And I said, ‘I am, too. Do what you want, I’m not going to take a strike.’ Normally I would take a pitch because he swung. I always came up, if somebody swung at the first pitch and made an out, the next guy has to take a pitch. But I’m like, you know what…”

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