Denard Span finds a groove


Denard Span. (Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports)

If you’ve looked closely at Denard Span in the batter’s box throughout the season, you would have noticed minor tweaks to his setup at the plate and his swing. Earlier this season, he stood in the batter’s box, knees bent and the back of his front foot up. Recently, Span has stood taller in the batter’s box, bending his knees as the pitcher delivers the ball.

Hitting depends so much on feel and, over a 162-game season, a player’s body feels differently at different stages. What Span has captured of late has turned him into the Nationals’ hottest hitter. He is hitting .387 (29 for 75) with four doubles and eight walks this month.

“From the time I got drafted, I’ve always been a guy who changes my stance,” Span said. “I tinker with things. The way I’m hitting now is more similar to how I hit towards the end of the season last year. As the season goes on, my body kind of adjusts and evolves. Right now it feels more comfortable with me standing upright.”

Span has strung together consecutive four-hit games entering Saturday’s game. His hot streak has pushed his season slash line to .289/.339/.398. His average leads the Nationals. He is tied for third in the National League with 29 doubles.

Span has been questioned for his declining on-base percentage atop the Nationals order but Nationals Manager Williams has stuck with him. Span has rewarded his faith. Span’s on-base percentage was .284 on May 11. In the 61 games since, Span has a .365 on-base percentage. His .339 on-base percentage is now slightly better than the major league average (.330) for a leadoff hitter this season.

“He’s been the same guy from day one,” Nationals hitting coach Rick Schu said. “He’s a total professional about how he prepares every day. It’s a matter of balls falling in for him now. I think he’s hit the ball well early part of the season. A lot of at ‘em balls [right at defenders]. He grinds A-Bs. For me, he’s been the most consistent guy throughout the lineup all season.”

Schu tries his best to keep Span locked in on one stance but understands the center fielder likes to adjust and appreciates his drive to improve. Schu believes Span has recently found a way to better use his lower half to drive the ball further. Span has also hit the ball of late to the opposite field and back up the middle, and rolled over fewer pitches to the right side, a good sign.

“He’s got [a lot] of doubles and he’s really leveraging the baseball,” Schu said. “I think that’s helping him get his hits. He’s been consistent since day one but he’s improved as well. Now he’s a threat to drive the ball past the outfielders where before they’d be kind of creeping a little bit. I think they’ve got to respect his pop now. That opens up some more holes.”

When Span enters the batting cage before games, he wants no one to talk to him. He wants to focus on how his body is feeling and how best to position himself to take advantage of it. “Once I get a feeling, I kinda ride it and go from there,” he said. And for the past month, he’s been riding a good one.

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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