When he’s at his best, Denard Span is an ideal leadoff hitter.
The Nationals center fielder has repeatedly demonstrated the ability to reach base, and he has the speed to steal second if asked. He’s a patient batter who works pitch counts early in games.
But the 2014 season didn’t start as well as expected for Span; his batting average stood at .236 and he held a .288 on-base percentage heading into Washington’s series opener against the Reds on Monday.
But in those three games against Cincinnati, Span recorded nine hits, two doubles, four RBIs and a home run, increasing his batting average and on-base percentage to .268 and .313, respectively.
“Could I put Anthony [Rendon] in the leadoff spot? Yeah. Could I put Jayson [Werth] in the leadoff spot? Yeah, I could,” manager Matt Williams said. “But I also look at the whole season and say [Span] does some things for us in the leadoff spot that are intangible that those other guys don’t do.”
Against the Reds on Wednesday, Span hit his first home run of the season, in his 161st at-bat of 2014. It took him 389 at-bats to knock his first one out of the park last year, so Span was thrilled to get that first home run of the season out of the way early.
“It’s a good feeling when you look up at the scoreboard and you don’t have that goose egg anymore,” he said.
While Span had some early-season struggles at the plate, he’s made up for it with his defense in center field. Entering this weekend’s four-game series against the Pirates, Span has never committed an error in a Nationals uniform — dating back to the beginning of last season. He’s made 87 putouts and has a range factor per game of 2.26 through the Nationals’ first 46 games in 2014.
“I see what he can do in any given way 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. The whole package, for me, is quality, and we need him in our lineup every single day, as many times as he can play.”
The Nationals need Span to keep up the hitting surge since the club has been decimated by injuries. First baseman Adam LaRoche is expected back Sunday, but third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and left fielder Bryce Harper are out indefinitely.
“It’s tough because I feel we’re still playing good baseball, even with our circumstances right now,” Span said.