(John McDonnell/The Washington Post)


Yesterday afternoon during batting practice, Denard Span finished a round and walked out of the cage. Davey Johnson was there waiting for him, ready with the latest piece of advice as Span tinkers with his swing.

This spring, Span is trying to return to the approach he used in 2009, his best season in the majors, when he hit .311/.392/.415 with eight homers – all career bests. “We’re just trying to get him back to being the feel of what he’s looking for,” hitting coach Rick Eckstein said. “There was a feel in ’09 that he had that he kept talking about. We’re really trying to just find that feel.”

The process began this winter, not long after the Nationals traded for him him. Eckstein devoured video of Span’s swing from the course of his career and drove across Florida, from his home in Sanford to Tampa, and met Span.

“He definitely did his homework,” Span said.

In the batting cage in Span’s backyard, Eckstein and Span set about rediscovering his 2009 swing. He had started with his hands in front of his body, which allowed him to “load” more easily – to pull his hands back before the pitch and start his swing. Span also moved to a more crouched stance, putting him into a more ready hitting position.

“The last two days, it’s been feeling good,” Span said.

Johnson helped with his small piece of advice. Outside the cage yesterday, Johnson told Span he had been “striding open.” When he stepped toward the pitch, he pointed his toe at the pitcher rather than keeping his foot square to the mound. The subtle move prevented Span from making solid contact with strikes over the outside half of the plate.

“A lot of times with me, it’s simple, little things that helps out,” Span said. “He told me that one thing, I made that one adjustment and the rest of my BP went good. I didn’t realize it until he pointed it out. It made sense. I felt it, but it didn’t really dawn on me.”

Said Johnson: “Just talkin’ hittin.’ It’s part of what we do around here. We communicate with guys, wanting to know what they’re thinking, just like they probably enjoy hearing what I’m thinking.”

>>> A couple quick notes about today. Gio Gonzalez told reporters he would address last night’s ESPN report following today’s workout. He wanted to focus on the practice at hand.

The Nationals will take live batting practice for the first time today. Sadly, it appears as though Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper will miss each other, although Strasburg is scheduled to pitch, along with Gio Gonzalez, Drew Storen and seven others.

The possible Strasburg-Harper showdown made us wonder: How many fellow first overall picks has Strasburg faced in his career? The answer is three: Chipper Jones (2 for 7, one walk, two strikeouts), Justin Upton (0 for 5, 2 K) and Pat Burrell (0 for 3, 2K). Go win some money tonight at the bar.