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Nationals activate Denard Span, option Michael A. Taylor to Syracuse

Nationals center fielder Denard Span jogs off the field during batting practice Sunday. (Alex Brandon/Associated Press)

A week ago today, Bryce Harper was the only player projected to start in the Nationals outfield actually starting there. Jayson Werth and Denard Span were out with injuries, and the Nationals were filling in as best they could without them.

Today, the Nationals’ starting outfield is intact for the first time all season. The team activated Span from the disabled list Sunday morning, optioning Michael A. Taylor to Class AAA Syracuse to clear a roster spot.

Span will lead off today, as he did all of last season. He will play center field, next to to Werth, who was activated Monday. He adds another left-handed bat to a lineup without many of them, and gives them a veteran, proven presence at the top of the order.

“It feels good to be honest with you,” Span said. “I didn’t think it would be this soon. It’s been a tough road, a tough six months for me. But I’m happy to be able to get on the field today and just get back to what I love doing.”

Span had surgery on a left core muscle in December, then began feeling discomfort in his right side as he increased the intensity of his workouts. He tried to play through the feeling in spring training, but was unable to explode or burst out as he would need to in center field or coming out of the batter’s box. So Span had another surgery on March 9, a procedure that came with a soft prognosis of 4 to 6 weeks of rest before he could return to baseball activities. Span will play in the major leagues today. His surgery was six weeks ago tomorrow.

“I think even before we left Florida, before spring training, that I was sprinting, I was running pretty good,” said Span, asked when he knew a quick return would be possible. “I started having more good days. I think once I got out there and started playing in some of the simulated games and stuff like that, I think that’s when I started to realize that I think I’m going to be better a lot quicker than I anticipated, than everybody else anticipated.”

Taylor filled the center field void while Span was out. The 24-year-old rookie played all 12 of the Nationals’ games in center, and led off 10 of them. He hit .271 and slugged .500 with two home runs, and eight runs batted in, which is tied for second-most on the team so far. His 19 strikeouts are the most in the National League so far.

“I wish I would’ve done better,” Taylor said. “I think I had some good at-bats. Like I said I struggled at times, but I think I did pretty good for the most part.”

” … There were some days when it kind of got away from me, but I think that’s normal,” he added. “Something I’ll continue to work on, being more consistent barreling up balls and things like that.”

Taylor also had a few notable defensive miscues, including two official errors and a few other misplays. But he’s considered an above average defender, given his outstanding speed and strong throwing arm. Span is a free agent after this season, and Taylor is his likely successor. The team could have opted to keep Taylor in the majors, finding him a couple starts a week when Werth or Span needed a day off, but opted instead to get him consistent at-bats and the polish of a full season at Triple-A. He has not had a full season there yet, as he split last season between Class AA Harrisburg, Class AAA Syracuse, and the Nationals.

“I thought he played brilliantly with some youthful mistakes. The ability level is there,” Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo said. “The usefulness of being put in a major league setting was there and he took to it very well.”

Asked how much he wanted to stay in the majors, Taylor said “I think everybody wants to stay and everybody wants to be here, so I guess as much as the next guy.” But he admitted he will be glad to play every day, wherever he does it.

“I like playing, so being able to play every day is definitely a plus,” he said.

Taylor will likely be playing every day for the Nationals again soon.

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