The last time Denard Span failed to reach base in a game, the 30-year-old Washington Nationals center fielder went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in a 7-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. That was on June 28th.
Since then, the second-year Nats outfielder has reached base in 33 straight games, lifting his line on the year from .268/.313/.392 to .300/.356/.400 in the process.
In the second of those 33 games, Span went 0-for-3 with a walk to get the streak started. 12 games in an 0-for-3, two walk day kept it going.
Span has hits in all but four of the games of his current on-base streak with multiple-hit games in 14 of the 33. He is currently fourth in the majors with 41 multi-hit games, tied with the Mets’ Daniel Murphy, behind only the Orioles’ Nick Markakis and the Blue Jays’ Melky Cabrera (43), the Mariners’ Robinson Cano (44) and the Astros’ Jose Altuve, who leads the majors with 48 multi-hit games.
After a four-hit game in a 4-1 win over the Cincinnati Reds on July 25th at Great American Ball Park, Nationals manager Matt Williams talked to reporters about what was going right for the Nats’ leadoff hitter.
“The key for him and the secret for him is hitting the ball back through the middle,” the first-year skipper said. “We saw that tonight, we’ve seen that over the last week or so, really is hitting the ball back up the middle and the other way. Just staying on it. Doing well.”
That game was the second of back-to-back four-hit games for Span. He has four four-hit games over the course of his streak, one three-hit game and ten two-hit games.
After a .233/.295/.314 start to his 2014 campaign in March/April, a .296/.331/.417 May and .259/.308/.417 month of June, Span put up a .368/.459/.411 line with four doubles, 16 walks and 14 strikeouts in 111 plate appearances in July.
Williams talked after a 2-for-4 game for Span in an 11-0 win over the Philadelphia Phillies on August 2nd about the importance of having the leadoff man get on in front of the Nats’ big middle-of-the-order bats.
“It sets our table. It sets the table for the guys in the middle,” Williams said. “Certainly it helps if he has the ability to steal second base and get in scoring position with nobody out in the top of the first. It just puts pressure on the other club.”
Span stole 13 bases over the first 71 games this season. Over the course of his 33-game on-base streak, he’s stolen 10, getting him within three of his previous season-high of 26 stolen bases.
Span talked this winter about being determined to improve that aspect of his game, explaining that he was focused on his running game after the Nats’ new manager told him he wanted to be more aggressive on the basepaths.
“I haven’t been as successful stealing bases in my career,” Span said, “but that’s something that every day I strive to get better at and I will get better. I’ll get more than 20 this year, I’ll tell you that.”
“I’ve studied film. I’ve studied some Rickey Henderson film. Some Vince Coleman film.
“I’ve got a speed coach, obviously, that I work out with every offseason. But I’ve been doing a lot of biometrics, a lot of explosive stuff, and just trying to improve in any way I can. Work on reaction time, little drills, stuff like that so, hopefully, I’m confident that that is going to translate over onto the field.”
Span also credited first base coach Tony Tarasco with helping him out with information on opposing pitchers, telling the Washington Post’s James Wagner this week that Tarasco, “has been in my ear since spring training started, before every game. He’s giving me something to get me ready. It’s just been a joy to see my hard work translate on to the field.”
After extending his on-base streak with a four-walk game on July 27th in Cincinnati, Span’s has a hit in each of his last 11 games including Thursday’s 4-for-6 day in the Nats’ win over the New York Mets on Thursday.
Over that stretch, he’s put up a .409/.460/.432 line with 18 hits, a double, five walks and just two strikeouts in his last 50 plate appearances.
Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo talked this week about outfielders like Michael Taylor, the organization’s breakout story of the season so far and Steven Souza one day patrolling the outfield in D.C. The next generation might have to wait a little longer though, because there’s a club option in Span’s current contract for 2015 and right now, Span at $9 million next season is looking like a bargain.
Patrick Reddington blogs about the Nationals for Federal Baseball and appears here as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. Follow him on Twitter: @federalbaseball. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.