Nats' Span wants to be smart stealer

Nats' Span wants to be smart stealer
April 5, 2013, 6:30 pm
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CINCINNATI -- Some four hours before first pitch at Great American Ball Park, Denard Span was getting a tutorial from first base coach Tony Tarasco on his leads and jumps from second base. Nothing out of the ordinary, just a little refresher course of baserunning fundamentals.

Except for one strikingly noticeable aspect of the drill: Span was wearing his mitt.

Some kind of newfangled drill designed to make Span remember to do something with his right hand? Alas, the truth was far less interesting than that.

"I went to go shag [flyballs] at first, and then we ended up doing other stuff," he said. "The glove was just to protect myself."

Span has had plenty of opportunity to work on his baserunning during the Nationals' first three games, having reached base in six of his last nine plate appearances. He's only attempted one steal (Wednesday night) and was thrown out, but he wants that to be a significant part of his game this season.

"I don't want to go just to be going," he said. "I want to go at ideal times and also to help the team. It's not about me stealing 60-70 bases. That would be nice. But if I can steal 25-35 and it helps our ballclub -- those stolen bases are meaningful, it's a good percentage -- that'd be fine with me."

Span owns a career 76 percent success rate on stolen bases and posted a strikingly good 87 percent rate (26 of 30) for the Twins in 2010. Davey Johnson has given him the green light to run on his own, but the manager also wants him to be smart enough not to squander an opportunity for the big bats behind him to drive in runs. (Johnson chastised Bryce Harper for an ill-timed and failed attempt to steal third during yesterday's game.)

More than anything, the Nationals hope Span (who has a career .357 on-base percentage) can continue to reach and put himself in position to either steal or score via a big hit from one of his teammates.

So far, the results are encouraging.

"For the first three games, yeah, I'll take that," Span said. "If I can do that for 155 more games, I think we'll win a lot of ballgames."