Nationals center fielder Denard Span had to leave Sunday’s 6-3 loss to the Cubs after the seventh inning with back spasms. Danny Espinosa replaced Span in the game and played left field. Michael A. Taylor switched over to center field.
Span said the back spasms came upon him quickly and jolted him in the dugout after his at bat in the bottom of the seventh.
“I felt fine. I popped up to shortstop,” Span said. “Came back, put my helmet in the rack, put my bat down, calmly. Sat down on the bench. Soon as we got three outs, hopped up to get my glove and went to go try to stand up and my back just locked up on me. Never happened to me before, so it definitely scared the heck out of me.”
Span went into the clubhouse to have his back checked out and start treatment. He spoke to the media after the game and said it had improved somewhat.
“It’s a little bit looser, but it’s still pinching,” Span said. “Take a few muscle relaxers on this train ride and hopefully it loosens it up, but good thing we have a day off tomorrow. I’m just going to communicate with the trainers tomorrow on the day off and let them know how I’m feeling.”
But when dealing with back issues, things can change after a three-hour train ride or a night in a hotel bed. Span is cautious about how he will feel Monday. He certainly appreciates the day off before Tuesday’s matchup with the Yankees.
“That’s the initial diagnosis,” Span said of the back spasms. “Hopefully it feels better tomorrow when I wake up. Then that will be a little bit more peaceful for me, but it’s still too early, I don’t know how serious (it is) or really what’s going on.”
Espinosa played left field for the first time in a major league game. In 544 previous major league games, Espinosa spent all of his time at shortstop, second base or third base. The team already had Tyler Moore at first base, Clint Robinson had been used as a pinch-hitter and they wanted to give Ryan Zimmerman a complete day off.
Manager Matt Williams had no hesitation going to Espinosa for the left field call in the eighth inning.
“He shags balls out there, we know what he can do,” Williams said. “Hasn’t had any game situations out there because we have outfielders and he’s been playing every day, just about every day at his normal position. If need arises, he can certainly play there, good athlete.”
“I’ve taken some fly balls when I’m not playing, just out there shagging, comfortable,” Espinosa said. “Trying to get the job done, not over think it.”
Espinosa was surprised he got the call to play in the outfield and figured he might get an at-bat as the Nationals tried to get back in the game.
“Not to play left, I thought maybe pinch-hit after Dan (Uggla) got his base hit there was an opportunity for the nine hole to come back up,” Espinosa said. “I was more kind of getting ready for that.”
Espinosa, who said he sued Jayson Werth’s outfield glove, did not have to make a play on a ball in left, but said the adjustment that was most critical was making sure he understood how hard a ball was hit off the bat from the outfield versus usually being close up on the infield dirt. He sought advice from a former major league outfielder now a coach on the Nationals bench.
“Just the depth, probably I guess, just knowing where you need to be depth wise, if you want to be farther back or where you’re supposed to be that way,” Espinosa said. “I was in the dugout and (first base coach and former outfield coordinator) Tony Tarasco was helping me, so I was, felt fine.”
The Nationals have now dropped their third straight series. In their three losses in this four-game set, the Nationals scored only six total runs.
Since May 29, the Nationals have tallied only 18 runs in eight losses. During their hot streak from April 27 to May 27, the Nationals had four players hitting at least .300. Now only Bryce Harper (.333) and Yunel Escobar (.316) have managed that mark. Zimmerman with the day off Sunday has only one hit in his last 22 at-bats.
Span and Espinosa talked about the last 10 days and the struggles the team has had against the Reds, Blue Jays and Cubs.
“I don’t know, man,” Span said. “We’ve been streaky, obviously this year. We’re going through a rough patch, can’t get anything going offensively. A lot of it I think we’re banged up as well. So we got a lot of guys giving their all. We just have to try to weather the storm. Try to stay in the thick of things until everyone gets full strength I guess.”
“Hitting is contagious,” Espinosa said. “When things are not going your way, they’re not going your way. There’s been some hard hit balls that just haven’t fallen. We’ll be alright. We’re too good of a team to stay in a slump this long. We’ll be fine.”