Span resurrects season with hit streak

Span resurrects season with hit streak
September 10, 2013, 7:45 pm
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NEW YORK — In the past, Denard Span might have shunned any questions about a hot streak of his at the plate. But the way this season has gone for the Nationals center fielder, he figures why not embrace the positive and fully acknowledge the fact he entered Tuesday night's game on a career-best, 20-game hitting streak.

"I normally don't even like talking about hitting," he said. "But I've been through so much this year, I'm almost to a point where a lot of it is it just being Sept. 10 and I'm physically and mentally a little worn out. Whatever. If you guys want to talk about it, let's talk about it."

There's plenty to talk to Span about these days. It's not just the hitting streak, which he extended to 21 games with a third-inning double. It's the fact he has resurrected his season thanks to a change in approach and attitude and, with fewer than three weeks to go, has positioned himself to finish right around his career norms for offensive production.

"I mean, if [the streak] ends today, it was fun," he said. "I've gotten going. That's the most important thing. A hitting streak is nice, but actually just to get going after beating myself up personally is the best feeling."

Span's batting average sat at .258 after an 0-for-5, 3-strikeout performance August 16 in Atlanta. He was frequently falling behind in the count, and when he did make contact, he was regularly tapping weak grounders to the right side of the infield.

Since then, Span has been on a tear. During his streak, he's hitting .410 (34-for-83) with a 1.011 OPS. He's done so in part by being more aggressive at the plate, putting the first pitch into play more than he ever has in his career.

"For so many years, I took strike one," he said. "I've been trying to get on base or whatever and hitting behind the count. But if they're going to keep throwing me strike one, fastballs, I'm going to be aggressive."

That has been music to the ears of Davey Johnson, who has been preaching a more-aggressive approach to all of his hitters this season.

"The last three weeks, I've seen him swing at first pitches," the manager said. "I don't think he did that for the first four months, hardly ever."

Span's surge also has coincided with a tweak to his pregame preparation plan. He's actually doing less work, electing not to take batting practice on the field with his teammates and only a short round of swings in the underground cage.

That change came on the advice of third base coach Trent Jewett, who noticed that Span spends only minimal time shagging flyballs daily but puts plenty of effort into those sessions, only to then spend up to 45 minutes taking BP.

"At the time, I was like: 'I'm struggling, so whatever,'" Span said. "Now that I've taken less swings, I kind of understand what he was talking about."

It's been a season of adjustments for Span, who admittedly got down on himself as things didn't go well earlier this summer. One of the Nationals' biggest offseason additions, he knew he wasn't living up to expectations.

Which has made the last three weeks particularly meaningful to Span, salvaging (in his mind) this season no matter how the final three weeks play out.

"Honestly, no matter where I end up, I can look at it already on Sept. 10 and say this is probably my best season of my career," he said. "Just considering what I've been through. I've been through a lot."