The Nationals' Leading Man

In Span, Washington has its answer at the top of the order

April 18, 2013

Nationals center fielder and leadoff hitter Denard Span has a .313 batting average and .421 on-base percentage this season.

After only 15 games, Denard Span has proved to be just what Washington’s lineup was missing.

Since the franchise moved to Washington in 2005, it has struggled to find a center fielder and a true leadoff hitter. In 2011, the Nationals ranked last in all of baseball in on-base percentage from its No. 1 batter (.285). A season ago, Washington improved to 18th (.325).

Span has gotten off to a solid start, with a .421 on-base percentage, which ranks fifth among leadoff hitters and 21st among all batters in the majors.

Span, who spent his first five major league seasons with Minnesota, has sparked Washington’s offense with his ability to get on base.

“I feel good to be able to do it on another team and be able to help us get off to a good start,” Span said.

Having Span as Washington’s leadoff hitter has been a welcome philosophical change for Nationals manager Davey Johnson.

“I’d rather have a better hitter than a long-ball [hitter],” Johnson said. “You do more damage when a quality hitter gets on base and keeps the line moving. Denard Span has done that his whole career.”

Span is still getting accustomed to some of the National League’s variations in comparison to the American League game. Last week in the series finale against Atlanta, Span was pulled after making the last out of the fifth inning so Washington could execute a double switch.

“They broke it down to me with what was going on, but I still didn’t get it,” Span said smiling. “I just shook my head and took a seat.”

Span missed the last two games in Miami due to a stomach illness but hopes to return to Washington’s lineup to face the New York Mets during the weekend series.

Span knows Washington will be counting on him to get the Nationals off to a hot start each game now that the ballclub has found a true leadoff hitter.

“We still have a lot of baseball left,” Span said. “A lot of it is how I feel at the plate swinging. Also, I know I got to take pitches and get on base for my teammates.”

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