Nationals center fielder Denard Span went 2-for-4 against Rangers winning pitcher Yu Darvish Sunday. The rest of the team managed three hits. Texas ended up with the 2-0 shutout.
Span believes Darvish's windup and delivery can mess up guys' rhythm in the box.
"I think it just throws your timing off," Span said. "He has that long, dramatic leg kick. He pitches to both sides of the plate. He can throw the cutter back door, front door. Two-seamer same way. He has the devastating breaking ball. Definitely did his job today.
"It is tough as a hitter when you got to worry about 94 mph and you got to also sit back on 60 to 65 mph. That's a 30 mph difference. For hitters, it is all about timing. Any time a pitcher can disrupt your timing, they got you where they want you as far as keeping you off-balance. He has a combination with the leg kick and his changeup velocity, as well."
Span was able to get two hits off of Darvish, including a leadoff double to start the game. The only other hit by a National that did not come off of Span's bat in the first five innings was a Wilson Ramos single in the fourth.
How does Span explain his success against Darvish?
"I don't know," Span aid. "I was looking at that. Facing him in 2012, I got a couple of hits the other time I faced him. For me, the long leg kick ... it kind of works out perfectly for my style of hitting. I get my foot down early and it gives me an opportunity to just feel myself staying back. Guys that have longer leg kicks for me are easier. Guys like him, Dan Haren, I have hit well against."
Span also was proud of what Tanner Roark was able to do. Roark allowed just one earned run in seven frames.
"He pitched his butt off," Span said. "He battled. First couple of innings, he threw a few more pitches than what he wanted to. But he kept battling. I'd give him the ball any day of the week for my team. He is just a competitor."
Span notched his eighth stolen base Sunday, and said he would like to get to 30 stolen bases this year, which would be a career high.
First baseman Adam LaRoche had nothing but praise for Darvish and his eight-inning, 12-strikeout performance.
"Well, we just caught a really good pitcher on a day when he had really good stuff," LaRoche said. "And Tanner (Roark) too, both sides. That was just a matter of who was going to come up with the big hit first. They happened to get the solo home run and that was enough, just mixing up pitches. ...That really is the key. When guys can mix up four or five different pitches, all different speeds and locations, makes it tough to sit on any one pitch."
"He was good. I know we chased some pitches, but overall he wasn't leaving anything over the middle of the plate. He is painting the corners. We're struggling to put the ball in play on some of these pitches. There are times when you have to tip your hat and I think today was one of them."
On LaRoche's strikeout in the fourth, the called third strike came on a stunning 59 mph curveball from Darvish.
"I thought he lost it," LaRoche said. "I thought it was going off the backstop when he released it. I just thought it slipped. And then it starts dropping in and I froze. I was impressed with that one. ... Really slow curveball."
But even after the sting of a 2-0 loss set in, LaRoche said winning the series will help the Nats for Tuesday's game against the Phillies.
"Overall, great series," LaRoche said. "We have been waiting for the bats to come alive and they did. Two out of three games, getting the amount of hits and runs that we produced there was a big step for us. So I think it is something to build off of."
It is possible that Ryan Zimmerman will return by Tuesday's series opener. How much will that help?
"Big, great boost," LaRoche said. 'When we have had these injuries again it's try to hold things down until guys get back. And we are slow to getting guys back healthy, Zim will be another big piece of that. It's another middle of the order guy for us, big bat. We could use the runs."
Roark allowed only a solo homer in Sunday's game. Leonys Martin cranked the home run in the seventh and the Rangers led 1-0.
"Just a bad changeup, didn't throw it with conviction, it was just a bad pitch," Roark said. "Like I have told you guys many times, pitches up (are) bad pitches, they get hit hard. It happened today and cost (us)."
"I feel like I wasn't as focused as I was starting the game. I really starting focusing, looking and staring at the glove, throwing it to the glove, that is what helped a lot."
In his last three starts, Roark has given up one earned run against the Reds, three against Miami and one against Texas. In the end, he believes it comes down to just one or two pitches he would like to have back.
"That's how it has been the last couple of games, it is just one pitch got to try to eliminate from my repertoire," Roark said. "You are going to give up runs but (you need to) have the conviction and execution on every single pitch you throw. Tip your hat to Darvish, he pitched well today. Have an off day, come back against the Phillies and go get them then."