July 2013

Span’s swing showing signs of improvement

By Tom Schad | Associate Reporter

Statistically speaking, center fielder Denard Span is having the worst season of his six-year Major League career. His .263 batting average and .318 on-base percentage are both career-lows, and his swing has been so mechanically out of whack that he has repeatedly fouled balls off his front foot.

But if the past nine games are any indication, Span might be turning the corner. Over that stretch, he is hitting .353 (12-for-34) with five extra-base hits and eight runs scored. He’s also shown more patience at the plate and drew two walks against the Brewers on Monday.

“Tonight was vintage me, seeing pitches,” Span said after the Nationals’ 10-5 win. “I didn’t get fooled too much. Whenever you see me seeing a lot of pitches like that, drawing walks, that’s what I do. Hopefully that lets me know I’m getting closer to where I need to be.”

Manager Davey Johnson has noticed a substantial difference in Span’s swing over the past week. Johnson said the center fielder used to have a longer, steeper swing when hitting to the opposite field, but that it has looked more crisp in recent games.

Despite Span’s .145 average against left-handers this season, Johnson said that he will continue to use him in the leadoff role.

“I think it was last road trip in New York, he took a ball on the outside part of the plate and rifled it to left,” Johnson said. “That’s the stroke he needs, and that got a little bit out of sorts. There’s a lot of guys who have early this season.”

Span admits that his numbers aren’t quite up to par, but it’s not from lack of effort. Over the past two weeks, he  has been a regular visitor at the team’s bullpen sessions, standing near the catcher and watching the ball to get his timing back on track.

“We’ve still got a lot of baseball left, and like I’ve been telling everyone from Day 1, every day I come here I’m trying to get better and better,” Span said. “Hopefully I’m turning the corner.”

Why Zimmermann struggles to hold a lead

By Tom Schad | Associate Reporter

Jordan Zimmermann has been stellar this season in every way but one: when the Nationals give him a big lead, he can’t seem to hang onto it.

The certain All-Star has already matched a career-high with 12 wins and boasts the ninth-best ERA in the Major Leagues (2.46). He has allowed three runs or more only four times, including Monday night against the Brewers. Yet in all four games, the Nationals gave Zimmermann had a cushion of at least four runs and he allowed the opposing offense to work its way back into the game.

On Monday, Zimmermann took an 8-0 lead into the top of the fifth inning. By the end of the sixth, that lead had been cut in half.

“You get eight runs like that and you’re just pitching to the score,” he explained. “I’m throwing fastballs and trying to get quick outs and trying not to fall behind anyone. They took the fastball the other way. I was just throwing it away. They got a few base hits and I wasn’t able to get out [of] a couple of innings and they just hit the ball. I was just trying to throw strikes and try[ing] to go deep in the game. They obviously knew I was going to throw the fastball and I wasn’t going to mess around. They were ready for it.”

For Zimmermann, the trend is nothing new. In 28 Major League starts in which he’s received minimal run support (0-2 runs), Zimmermann has a 2.50 ERA. In 29 starts when the offense has scored six runs or more, his ERA jumps to 4.21.

While Zimmermann’s inability to hold a lead might seem worrisome, it hasn’t had a large effect on the team’s results this season. In three of his four rough starts, the Nationals have still won the game. Count manager Davey Johnson among the unfazed.

“He always goes after them, but he might go after them a little more over the plate,” Johnson said. “I’m not really worried about it.”