Span on his return: “Today was my opening day”

The Nationals welcomed back center fielder Denard Span, who led off and played center field Sunday for the first time this season. He had been out of the lineup since the beginning of the season while recovering from right core muscle surgery.

Manager Matt Williams said it felt “normal” again with Span playing. Span went 1-for-5 with a single and run scored in the Nationals’ three-run fifth. The Nats went on to beat the Phillies 4-1, clinching their first series win of the season.

“No offense to anybody, but it was normal, more normal today,” Williams said of Span’s return to the lineup. “With Denard at the top of it in center field, it feels like normalcy. It’s a good feeling. Michael (A. Taylor) played really well when he was here. But today was a little step back to where we had planned it all along.”

“I think the guys that (were) here to fill in, they did a great job, and they left it all out there on the field so you can’t ask for more,” said winning pitcher Stephen Strasburg. “But the same sense, when you see the same guys around you and you get that familiarity, I think guys don’t feel like they have to press as much.”

span-catch-red-sidebar.jpgSo how close to completely healthy is Span? Really close. But he still would like to have his speed back, too. Span said his speed was tested when he scored all the way from first base on Ian Desmond’s fifth-inning double.

“It felt good. I was out of breath,” Span said. It felt good just to get on my horses like that. It’s been awhile since I’ve been able to do that. Good to contribute today.

“I think I’m full strength. I’m not as quick as I was last year, I guess, (at) this time. It’s still a process. I am going to continue to get stronger, I think, as time goes on, but I feel good running.”

Williams agreed: “I think he’s fine. I don’t think he thinks about it, which is key for us. So if he’s out there playing the game and just strictly playing and not having to think about, ‘Boy, I need to go to this gap and catch a ball,’ or whatever it is, then we’re fine with that. I don’t know if he’s full speed at this point. But he doesn’t think about it and it doesn’t hurt. So that’s the only thing that matters to us.”

Span was somewhat surprised he was able to return by April 18. But the surgeon who performed the procedure gave him the confidence he would be able to dominate his rehab.

“I didn’t think I would be back this soon,” Span noted. ‘Honestly, the surgeon that did the surgery said he thought I could be back probably sooner than when I came back. I trusted his word and I put forth the hard work doing what everybody asked of me to do. That’s why I was able to get back a little sooner.”

Span also acknowledged his teammates and the fans for giving him a welcoming boost.

“Just priceless, man. These fans have treated me so gracious through the ups, downs since I’ve been here for the last three years,” Span said. “Just a warm feeling. When I came out and just hearing the fans’ excitement, and even my teammates, you could tell just the glow in their face, it was genuine. Happy to see me back. Just means a lot.”

And what was it like to stand in center field on defense at Nats Park again?

“It felt like it was like old times, I guess you could say,” Span said. “It was a little different looking over to my right and seeing J-Dub (Jayson Werth) in left field. Felt great.

“Today was our first day. We didn’t get a spring training together. Me and J-Dub were hurt. But today felt good. We’ll just going to continue to get better and continue to work as the season goes along.”

First baseman Ryan Zimmerman, like Span’s other teammates, appreciated having the veteran back on defense.

“He obviously was a big part of this team last year,” Zimmerman said. “Having him at the top of the lineup, he’s really good at what he does - setting the table offensively. But defensively, he’s really good in center. It’s just good to have him back.”

Asked what it felt like to finally return after starting the season on the sideline, Span said, “Today was my opening day, so I had a lot of jitters and all that stuff.”

blog comments powered by Disqus