By Bill Ladson
WASHINGTON — Nationals center fielder Denard Span looked more relaxed at last weekend’s NatsFest than he did a year ago. When he attended last year’s event, he appeared shy and was looking for somebody to talk to. This year was a different story.
“I walked into the room, and [I’m] comfortable with the guys and the guys have been comfortable with me as well,” Span said on Saturday. “It’s definitely a big difference. I’m looking forward to this year. I really am.”
After a slow start in his first year in Washington, Span hit .302 after the All-Star break and had a Major League-leading 29-game hitting streak. Span hit .371 (46-for-124) with two homers and nine RBIs in that span.
During that stretch, the Nationals went 22-7, and Span raised his batting average from .258 to .282. Span’s streak was a game shy of tying the franchise record set by Ryan Zimmerman in 2009.
Span hopes his great second half can carry over into this coming season. The first order of business is to improve his baserunning. First-year manager Matt Williams told Span that he plans to be aggressive on the basepaths. That could translate into more stolen-base attempts for Span, who had 20 last year and was caught six times.
“I like that. That’s what I want to do. I haven’t been as successful in stealing bases in my career, but that is something I strive to get better at everyday,” Span said. “I will get better. I will get more than 20 this year, I’ll tell you that.”
Span, who hired a speed coach, spent the offseason watching film of some of the great basestealers in history, such as Rickey Henderson and Vince Coleman.
“I’m trying to improve anyway I can. I’m working on reaction time, little drills. Hopefully, I’m confident it will translate into the field,” Span said.
Span could be a free agent after the season if the Nationals don’t pick up his $9 million option. But the 29-year-old indicated that he would love to stay in Washington.
“If it’s my will to be here, this is where I want to be,” Span said. “I’m just looking forward to going out this year, building off my last month and a half of the season doing bigger and better things. I’m excited.”