With two outs in the third inning of Sunday’s game against the Texas Rangers, Denard Span took off for second base. With Jayson Werth facing Rangers ace Yu Darvish, Span getting into scoring position simplified Werth’s at-bat. Span slid into second base safely, beating the throw. Now, at least a single could score Span.
Nothing came of the inning, as Darvish fanned Werth for one of his 12 strikeouts Sunday, but Span’s impact was still felt. So far this season, he has stolen a team-high eight bases and been caught only once. His stolen base rate (89 percent) ranks near the top of the majors, headlining a Nationals’ team that has improved its stolen base effectiveness (second-best 84 percent) since last season.
Through one-third of the season, Span is on pace to steal just under 24 bases, which would be the second-highest total of his career and best since career-high 26 in 2010. In his first three seasons in the major leagues with the Minnesota Twins, Span stole 67 bases in 88 attempts, averaging 22 bases a year. In his final season in Minnesota, Span swiped only 17 bases in 23 attempts over 128 games.
Last season, his first with the Nationals, Span made a goal of improving his stolen base totals. His hitting turned into a larger priority, and he lagged behind his baserunning expectations, learning a new league of pitchers and feeling timid on the bases. He stole 20 bases in 26 attempts; Ian Desmond led the team with 21 stolen bases.
Again this season, Span made improved baserunning a priority. With more confidence in his reads of pitchers and less fear of making a mistake, Span, now 30, has been more of a threat on the basepaths. Span, who is hitting .273/.318/.380, wants to keep it up and steal more.
“It’s something I’ve been trying to do my whole career,” he said. “I’ve never gotten 30 so that’s something that’s a goal for me. It’s part of my game. I’ve got to be aggressive but I’ve got to be smart about it. I realize that it’s one of my attributes I have to maximize because I obviously don’t hit home runs so I’ve gotta find a way to get in scoring position and help the team score runs.”
With an inconsistent offense that has fluctuated between potent (in April) and struggling (in May), the Nationals could need Span’s improved ability to get into scoring position more often.