Span, a .301 hitter this season who led the National League with 184 hits, bounced back in the Nationals’ Game 3 victory. The Nationals’ offense went dormant without their spark at the top of the lineup, and Span’s 2-for-4 resurgence in Game 3 offered promise.
Span identified his problem. All season, he had stayed back on pitches and hit them back through the middle and to left field. In the first two games, he became antsy and jumped at the pitch. He hooked pitches to the right side, leaning out and rolling over, like when he struggled early in the 2013 season.
“I was 0 for 11,” Span said. “I probably hit nine of those balls to the first baseman.”
Span moved to 0 for 12 when Madison Bumgarer struck him out to open Monday’s Game 3. In his second at-bat, as he whiffed at strike two, Span’s front shoulder flew open like a door with a busted hinge, a swing that would pulled the ball on a pitch to the outside corner. Span recognized immediately how the hack had gone against everything that made him the NL hits leader.
“It was my second at-bat,” Span said. “I swung and missed for strike two. I felt like I was seeing the ball good, but I was just out in front. I told myself I was just going to let the ball get as deep as possible and try to hit the ball the other way. That’s what I was able to do.”
On the very next pitch, Span kept his front shoulder closed and flicked the ball into shallow left field. “Call time out and get the ball out of play,” Span said, laughing. In his next at-bat, Span took a similar pitch to left field and recorded his second hit.
Oddly, facing Bumgarner – one of the toughest lefties in baseball – might have helped Span unlock his swing. Manager Matt Williams suggested some left-handed hitters need to face a lefty to shed a slump, and that rang true for Span.
“You got to stay in there,” Span said. “In my career, I’ve hit lefties better than righties because I simplify things. I wait back. Against righties, I see the ball so good. Against Peavy and Hudson, I was getting too quick. I see the ball good, and I’m pulling off the ball. I got to try to take a deep breath, settle down and get back to doing what I was doing.”