SAN FRANCISCO - Denard Span isn’t having a great season, not by his standards. But the 32-year-old outfielder is healthy again after an agonizing 2015 with the Nationals that included three different surgeries, never-ending rehab and then the uncertainty that accompanied that once he hit free agency last fall.
So as he prepares to face his former club this weekend, Span has come to appreciate the opportunity he was given by the Giants, who despite his health questions over the winter were willing to offer him a three-year, $31 million contract.
“It feels good,” he said this afternoon at AT&T Park. “It feels good just to be back doing what I love doing. Last year was probably one of the worst years of my career. I’ve never had any injuries like that. So I’m just happy to be on the field doing what I do, helping this team win.”
A key part of the Nationals’ 2013 and 2014 clubs, Span was counted on to do it again last season. But offseason surgery for a sports hernia set in motion a chain of events that led to more injuries to the other side of his abdomen, his back and then his hip.
Span wound up playing in only 61 games, and though he still managed to hit .301 with a .365 on-base percentage, he never felt close to 100 percent healthy and admits now that he pushed himself too hard to return from those injuries, in part because he knew he was in a contract year.
When the season ended, with Span forced to watch the Nationals’ September meltdown from his home in Tampa while recovering from surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip, he was left to wonder where he’d be playing in 2016, whether the Nats would remain interested or whether he’d be looking elsewhere.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen,” he said. “I was just so distraught. I was just in a bad place, just being hurt. And just the state of the team as well. I hoped that I was maybe going to get an opportunity to come back. But I wasn’t sure. There was a lot of uncertainty with free agency. So I wasn’t sure.”
The Nationals, like most teams, weren’t willing to make a significant commitment to Span before he made a full recovery from his September hip surgery, which required six months to recover. The Giants, though, were convinced in Span’s recovery enough to make the three-year offer, and he couldn’t refuse that.
“That was a blessing,” he said. “It definitely caught me off-guard. I’ll be honest with you: There were a lot of teams that called. They didn’t want to go long-term, but there were a lot of teams that wanted to do one-year and two-year deals. But San Francisco, they stepped up. They took a chance on me. I’m just happy that I have been able to be healthy to this point. I’ve played more games this year than I did last year. I just look forward to continuing to progress.”
Span’s numbers to date - .256 batting average, .333 on-base percentage, .344 slugging percentage - aren’t up to his usual standards. But the fact he has played in 90 of San Francisco’s 101 games matters most to him, and he believes the farther removed he gets from the surgery, the more he’ll start to resemble his real self on the field.
He remains in touch with several former teammates, including a guy he played with in Minnesota who has since become his replacement in Washington: Ben Revere.
Revere, of course, has battled through his own injury (strained oblique suffered on opening day) and subsequent struggles (.214 batting average, .262 on-base percentage). And now he’s dealing with life on the bench, with rookie Trea Turner tonight starting his third straight game in center field despite zero outfield experience until a month ago at Triple-A Syracuse.
Span, though, is a big believer in Revere and offered up strong words of encouragement for his pal.
“He’s going to be fine,” Span said. “He had some struggles in Philadelphia, I remember when we were playing against him. He’s a guy that once he gets hot, he’ll stay hot for a long time. I don’t worry about him. He’s hit at every single level that he’s played at. Sometimes you come into a new situation, a new team, it might be a little awkward. I think he just needs to get settled in. And once he does, he’ll be fine. He’s a fine ballplayer. He can do it all. I’m a fan of his.”