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Denard Span to see specialist Thursday, says ‘no chance’ he plays this weekend

Denard Span will see a specialist Thursday in the hopes of finding out the root of his back troubles. (Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports)

More often than he would like this season, Denard Span stood in front of his locker and answered questions about nagging injuries, his usual jokes and smirks replaced by “I don’t knows” and resignation. He stood there again before Wednesday night’s game against the Reds, frustrated by the back spasms that forced him to leave Monday’s game and kept him out of the lineup since.

Span will fly to Dallas to see a specialist Thursday, when he will get the results of his MRI exam. Regardless of the outcome, he said there is “no chance” he plays this weekend against Baltimore.

The Washington Nationals will not place Span on the disabled list. Nationals Manager Matt Williams said the team does not want to make a disabled list decision until they “find the root” of what is going on. Meanwhile, the team will play down an outfielder, leaving Bryce Harper, Tyler Moore, Matt den Dekker, Michael A. Taylor and Clint Robinson as healthy outfielders. Manny Burriss and Danny Espinosa are both available to play in emergencies.

“I’m definitely not helping the team by doing what I’ve been doing for the last three, four weeks,” Span said. “Missing games here and there, playing three, four games, so definitely been putting the team in a bad spot.”

Williams called the problem “a perplexing one” because when Span has played, he has played well. His .798 OPS is 10th among major league center fielders, and he is hitting .304 with 11 stolen bases in 59 games atop the Nationals lineup. That average is eighth among regular major league leadoff men, his .367 on-base percentage sixth.

“It hasn’t been by my power. It’s been by the power of the man above. He’s given me the strength to this point to play to the best of the abilities that I have,” Span said. “I didn’t have an offseason. Didn’t train. Didn’t get an opportunity to train. And so everything you guys have been seeing has just been a testament to hard work over my career. Just prayers being answered.”

Span did not have an offseason because he spent the winter recovering from left core surgery, then endured another surgery on the right side in March that stole his spring training. He returned faster than expected from the surgery in March, returning to the lineup in mid-April. He battled knee pain in late May, and the back spasms first emerged during the first week of June.

“They think it’s stemming from that. Just everything: the surgeries, not having an offseason to get my body strong. My body’s just behind the eight ball,” Span said. “To still play at the high level I’m accustomed to, I’ve put a lot of stress on body parts I normally wouldn’t put stress on if I were in good condition. So I’ll have to take a step back and figure out what’s going on and try to play catch-up basically.”

Until this week, Span had not had an MRI on his back because the trouble was often short-lived. Instead, Span relied on what he called “a lot of professional guessing” by the Nationals training staff, which speculated about the trouble and prescribed exercises to help. The 31-year-old  responded well to the exercises and was maintaining his play on the field, so “we didn’t think it was anything serious.” Now, they are not so sure.

Complicating matters is the fact that Span is in the final year of his contract and entering free agency. Last year, he led the National League in hits. This year, when healthy, he maintained a similar pace, played strong defense at a key position, and hit for more power than he has in his Nationals tenure. Given the Nationals’ injury troubles, Span pushed to get back and stay on the field.

“It’s gotten to the point now where I’ve gotta figure out what’s going on,” Span said. “This is bigger — hopefully I want to play another 10 years — so I gotta figure this out.”