Matt Williams sticks with Denard Span as Nationals’ leadoff hitter

Denard Span. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Denard Span. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Even though the Nationals have the lowest on-base percentage (.283) from the leadoff spot in the majors, Manager Matt Williams wants to stick with Denard Span atop the lineup. Span entered Tuesday’s game hitting .239 with a .287 on-base percentage. He has drawn 11 walks in 168 plate appearances while Nate McLouth, for example, has drawn nearly as many walks (10) in nearly half the plate appearances (85).

Asked about Span’s production, Williams said he believes the center fielder is a crucial part of the Nationals and atop the lineup. Span’s low batting average isn’t the only way Williams evaluates the hitter.

“I see what he can do on any given day to help us win,” Williams said. “I also see the phenomenal plays he’s making in center field like very few in this game can do.  So the whole package for me is quality. We need him in our lineup every single day and as many times as he can play. Production? Yeah, would I love to see him hitting .330? Yeah, of course. I’d love to see everybody hitting .330 and he wants to, too. But I look at it on a broader scale than that. He’s a very important part of our team. If he doesn’t get any hits, he’s saves us runs in the outfield and that’s production in and of itself.”

Span began slowly last season, his first in Washington, before becoming aggressive at the plate, putting together a second-half surge with a 29-game hitting streak and finished with a .279/.327/.380 slash line, just below his career averages.

Williams admitted he has considered using another hitter atop the Nationals’ lineup. But even if he wanted to, his hands are tied. With all the injuries, the Nationals are forced to lean heavily on regulars like Jayson Werth, Anthony Rendon, Wilson Ramos, Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa and Span.

Adam LaRoche (.421), Werth (.378) and Bryce Harper (.352) lead the team in on-base percentage this season, but LaRoche and Harper are on the disabled list and all three are mostly middle-of-the-order power bats. Rendon, who filled in adequately as a leadoff hitter for Span after he had a concussion last month, has a .318 on-base percentage. Werth is providing power in the heart of a hobbled lineup.

“We have every stat known to man available to us that says that Anthony is a really good on-base guy; so is Jayson,” Williams said. “Could I put Anthony in the leadoff spot? Yeah. Could I put Jayson in the leadoff spot? I could. But I also look at the whole season and say, ‘He does some things for us in the leadoff spot that are intangibles that those other guys simply don’t do. Is that good or bad? I don’t know. But I also look at this and say we’re in decent shape considering. We’re going to move forward with it. We’re going to step forward tonight. He’s going to play and we’re glad to have him.”

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