Results tagged ‘ denard span ’

Nats Grapefruit League Notes, 3/1

By Andrew Simon

VIERA, Fla. — Saturday’s Grapefruit League contest between the Nationals and Braves at Space Coast Stadium featured two teams that figure to be fighting each other for the National League East title. But after a brisk first two innings from starters Jordan Zimmermann and Julio Teheran, the game devolved into a sloppy affair that lasted three hours, 59 minutes and featured 31 runs, 37 hits, 14 walks, six errors and numerous misplays.

For what it’s worth, the Nats outlasted the Braves, 16-15. Here are some notes and observations from a long and crazy day at the ballpark:

– Zimmermann was on point, throwing 15 of his 20 pitches for strikes and getting five ground balls in six batters during two scoreless innings. As mentioned in today’s notebook, Zimmermann mixed in some nice changeups, a part of his repertoire that that he has developed very gradually in recent years.

– Bryce Harper played his first game of the spring, going four innings in left field and taking three plate appearances. He lined out sharply to first base, walked twice and stole a base.

– The Nats went 3-for-3 on steals in the third inning, with Denard Span stealing one on his own before pulling off a double steal of third and second with Harper. New manager Matt Williams wants his players to run the bases more aggressively, and they appear to be doing that in the early going.

– Most of the Nats pitchers after Zimmermann had a tough time, but veteran righty Luis Ayala — competing for one the last two bullpen spots — stopped the bleeding. He came in to protect a one-run lead with one out and the bases loaded in the eighth and induced an inning-ending double play, then pitched a scoreless ninth for the save. Ayala is a sinkerball artist who posted an excellent 59 percent groundball rate last season, mostly with Atlanta.

“He’s a guy that can have really quick innings,” Williams said. “An aggressive opposition, ball sinking down and in, a lot of ground balls. So that’s why we’re considering him and that’s why he’s here and it was a perfect situation today for him.”

– Michael Taylor, who is considered a strong defensive prospect in center field, had a rough day after entering the game in right. He made two errors on one play to allow Matt Lipka to circle the bases on a bloop hit down the line and later dropped a line drive into the right-center gap.

“We want to make sure he gets some reps out there,” Williams said. “Today’s a rough day for any right fielder, but he’ll get some more reps out there, too.”

Tomorrow: The Nats are back at Space Coast to take on the Marlins at 1:05 p.m. Doug Fister will start in his Washington debut, and fellow newcomer Jerry Blevins is scheduled to pitch as well. Jayson Werth is supposed to play for the first time this spring.

Looking ahead: Ross Detwiler will start against the Yankees on Monday in Tampa, and Stephen Strasburg will take the ball against the Braves on Tuesday in Lake Buena Vista. That would leave Gio Gonzalez as the one expected member of the rotation yet to pitch.

Worth noting: Although he called Saturday’s defensive sloppiness an “aberration,” Williams said his club will address the issue in a previously scheduled situational defense practice on Sunday.

Worth quoting: While passing a group of reporters in a hallway shortly after the game, Nats coach Mark Weidemaier, who is in charge of the club’s defense, quipped, “Coached the [heck] out of ‘em today!”

Further reading: Today’s notebook on Nationals.com also includes info on how Danny Espinosa will split his time between second base and shortstop this spring, the approach Williams wants prospect Zach Walters to take at the plate, and lefty Tyler Robertson aiming for a bullpen job.

Follow me on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB

Notes from Nats camp, 2/27

By Andrew Simon

VIERA, Fla. — Thursday was a light day at Nationals camp, as the team gears up for the start of the Grapefruit League season, which begins on Friday against the Mets at Port St. Lucie. The main piece of action was batting practice on the field at Space Coast Stadium. Here are some notes and observations:

– As mentioned in today’s notebook on Nationals.com, manager Matt Williams and catcher Wilson Ramos got into a bit of friendly competition during Ramos’ BP rounds. Ramos whiffed on one early offering but got his revenge by crushing a few monstrous home runs, including two off the left-field scoreboard. After Ramos demolished his last pitch over the berm behind deep left-center field, Williams jokingly shouted, “Show-off!”

“He’s just big power. Big power,” Williams said. “He hits the ball the other way really good, too. So that’s why he’s so good at driving runs in because he stays through the middle of the diamond. Today he was letting it eat a little bit though. That’s good.”

– The workout was open to the public, and although only perhaps a few dozen people sat in the stands, one group serenaded center fielder Denard Span with “Happy  Birthday” when he stepped into the cage for his first round of BP. Span turned 30 on Thursday.

– Some managers prefer to take their own cars to away games during Spring Training, but Williams will be taking the bus.

“I don’t think that I have authority to do that right now,” Williams said of going on his own. “One, I don’t know where I’m going. Two, we’re going to have talks on the way back. We’re going to need to put together lineups for the next day and stuff like that.”

Tomorrow: The Nats finally will face someone other than themselves when they square off against the Mets at 1:10 p.m. ET. Taylor Jordan will get the start, while Rafael Montero will go for New York. As Bill Ladson writes, it will be Williams’ first game as a big league manager, even if it’s only Spring Training.

Looking ahead: The club’s first game at Space Coast Stadium will be at 1:05 p.m. on Saturday against the Braves. They also will face the Marlins in Viera on Sunday at 1:05 before heading back on the road.

Worth noting: Williams said he plans to give his starters a couple of at-bats in Friday’s game. That group includes the likes of Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond.

Worth quoting: Williams on if he is nervous about the mechanics of managing a game – “No, it’s fine. That part of it, I’ve done before [in the Arizona Fall League]. Not at this level. The only thing I’m worried about or nervous about is trying to get everyone into the game. I want to look at everybody. So unfortunately that is almost impossible sometimes. But that’s the plan. But going out there and making a change, I’m not worried about that stuff.”

Further reading: In today’s notebook, there are items on Williams’ plan to keep Ramos healthy and fresh this season, the Nats’ catchers preparing for the new home-plate collision rule, and how reliever Erik Davis is progressing in his recovery from an elbow injury.

You can follow me on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.

Span looking to do better in ’14

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.”

              

20-20 (Part II): Ian Desmond joins elite company

By Andrew Simon

When Ian Desmond swiped second base in the seventh of Sunday’s nightcap against the Marlins, it gave him 20 stolen bases and his second consecutive season with at least 20 steals and 20 homers.

Considering that Desmond plays a prime defensive position at shortstop, that blend of power and speed is a rare commodity. Six other players have hit the 20-20 mark this year, and all of them are outfielders. Only three other infielders are anywhere close with a week left to go, but none of them are shortstops.

In fact, Desmond is now only the seventh shortstop in history with multiple 20-20 seasons, joining Hanley Ramirez (four), Jimmy Rollins (four), Alex Rodriguez (three), Derek Jeter (two), Barry Larkin (two) and Alan Trammell (two).

“He does it all,” said center fielder Denard Span, who is first-year teammates with Desmond. “I’m gonna be honest with you — has a strong arm, hits for power, hits for average. He’s the total package. I knew him for a few years before I got here but I never had a chance to watch him play up close and personal and he’s definitely the real deal.”

Span also praised the intelligence, work ethic and drive Desmond brings on a daily basis.

The 28-year-old has played in and started 153 of the Nats’ 156 games this year and on Monday will hit the 154-game plateau for the third time in his four full big league seasons. Manager Davey Johnson called him “Iron Man Desi,” on Saturday, when he brought him up as a worthy candidate for team MVP, alongside Jayson Werth.

Quality has matched quantity, too. Desmond’s .286/.338/.465 batting line with 20 homers gets him close to his numbers from a breakout 2012, and he already has set a career high with 80 RBIs. He also has accrued a career-best 5.1 wins above replacement (according to FanGraphs.com), thanks to solid contributions offensively, defensively and on the bases. That puts him second among MLB shortstops, behind only Troy Tulowitzki.

“Every day he’s ready to go, same intensity,” Span said. “He never looks tired, never looks frustrated or flustered. He’s always ready to go. He’s definitely a gamer.”

Two innings after Desmond reached 20-20, he took first on an intentional walk. With one out in the ninth inning of a tie game, he broke for second on the back end of a double steal and slid in safely for No. 21.

Clearly, he wasn’t satisfied.

“It’s pretty cool. It’s definitely a blessing,” he said of the accomplishment, which earned him an ovation from the crowd at the end of the inning. “I wasn’t always headed down this road in my life, and I’m just fortunate and try to take every day as a blessing and just try to do the best I can every day.”

Breaking down the Nats’ playoff chances

By Tom Schad | Associate Reporter

With their all-important doubleheader sweep of the Braves on Tuesday, the Nationals have won 10 of 11, 21 of 27 and 27 of 37.

But with only 11 games remaining, their playoff odds have not improved much.

CoolStandings.com pegs Washington’s chances of reaching the postseason at 3.8 percent. Baseball Prospectus has them even lower, at 3.3 percent.

The Reds have a 4 1/2-game lead in the National League Wild Card race, which is fairly significant with less than two weeks left in the season. Their magic number to clinch the Wild Card is seven, meaning a combined seven Reds wins and Nats losses.

“I mean, we’ve still got a lot of work to do,” Denard Span said. “We haven’t gotten over any humps yet. [The Braves] are in the playoffs. We’re not. So it feels good for today … but that’s all I’m concerned about right now.”

Yes, long odds like these have been overcome before. In 2011, St. Louis went 8-3 and passed the Braves, who finished 2-8. That same year, the Rays trailed Boston by four games with 12 to play and won the Wild Card. But it doesn’t happen often.

For a team that has struggled with expectations all season, however, that might be a good thing.

“We’re playing with house money,” Ian Desmond said over the weekend. “Everyone kind of wrote us off, and we’re fighting our way back in. Just keep on playing and what will be will be.”

The easiest way to think about the race is in terms of that magic number: seven. If the Reds finish 7-3, they automatically clinch the Wild Card — even if the Nationals go 11-0. If the Reds go 5-5 and the Nationals finish 9-2 (which is still a tremendous stretch), the Reds still clinch.

All of that assumes, of course, that we have a two-team race for the second Wild Card spot. In reality, it is a fluid situation.

The Cardinals, Pirates and Reds are separated by 2 1/2 games in the NL Central. Pittsburgh and Cincinnati will play six of their final nine games against one another. The Nationals will open a three-game series in St. Louis at the beginning of next week. Depending on how those games shake out, the Nationals could find themselves targeting another NL Central team for that final Wild Card spot.

That said, it’s hard to overstate the importance of the Nationals’ sweep of the Braves on Tuesday. The Reds are in Houston beating up on Bo Porter and the Astros, so if the Nationals can win again Wednesday and merely keep up with Cincinnati over these three days, it will be a major victory.

Playoff implications aside, the Nationals are building momentum for a strong finish. They beat a Braves team that had bullied them at Nationals Park all season. It was about pride as much as anything else.

Sure, the odds say that the Nats will not make the playoffs. But they also seem poised to finish well above .500 with the confidence that this core group of players can still get the job done, even if they have to wait until next year to do so.

“By no means are we to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow yet,” Desmond said. “But we are playing better and I think that’s all of us in here really wanted to see us do, finish the season with some pride and put up the year people thought we were going to.”

Span extends hitting streak to 20 games

NEW YORK — Nationals center fielder Denard Span extended his hitting streak to 20 games by hitting a leadoff home run against the Mets on Monday night.

With right-hander Carlos Torres on the mound for New York, Span led off in the first inning and worked the count to 2-2, when he hit the ball over the right-field wall for his fourth home run of the season. It was also the first leadoff home run for the Nationals this season.

During the streak, Span is 32-for-79 [.405] with two home runs and seven RBIs. Span has a long way to go before he catches up to the Nats’ record set by third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who had a 30-game hitting streak that went from April 8th to May 12th, 2009.

Nats’ Span on hot streak

By Tom Schad | Associate Reporter

Denard Span extended the best hitting streak of his career to 15 games on Sunday night with a pinch-hit single in the eighth inning. Entering Monday’s series opener against the Phillies, he had a .407 average over his past 15 games.

Span has been spending extra time in the batting cage  with hitting coach Rick Schu, who introduced a concept called “fluididity” to  the center fielder.

“I don’t know if it’s a word, but it is now,” Schu said over the weekend. “We’re just trying to get him some  rhythm and some flow. Really not a big overhaul — it’s tough because you’ve got  to compete every day — but we’re just trying to find some rhythm and get him a game plan every day.”

Span hit .265 in 90 games  before Schu’s arrival and is hitting .303 in 34 games since. Perhaps the most noticeable difference in Span’s approach is that he has been hitting for power. All three of his home runs this season have come since the All-Star break, in addition to five doubles and two triples.

“He’s a strong guy,” Schu said. “We don’t want him to go up and worry about hitting home runs, but he’s going to run into them and hit them. It’s just a matter of  getting through his front side and just staying through the baseball a little  bit longer.”

Schu praised Span as an all-around hitter with the ability of a perennial All-Star. He said that Span is not just a table-setter at the top of the lineup, but someone who could hit 10 home runs in a season as well.

“Not to take anything from conventional leadoff hitters, but I’ve never considered myself just a slap guy, or a singles guy,” Span said. “I’ve always considered myself a guy that can drive the ball in the gaps and hit some home runs. I’m confident in my ability. I know what God has blessed me with. It’s just a matter of putting it all together and just continuing to work.”

Which Nats players could go after 2013?

After the 2013 season comes to an end, the Nationals are likely to make changes  to improve the club for next season. Here are the current Nationals who may not be with the club next year.       

OF Roger Bernadina: As one person put it, “[Bernadina] has been a disappointment this year.” He not only has problems swinging the bat, but Bernadina has made some fundamental mistakes on the bases. As one evaluator put it, “[general manager Mike] Rizzo has never been a fan of Bernadina’s.”

Bernadina is arbration eligible after this season and there is a good chance he will be non-tendered.

2B Danny Espinosa: Shoulder and wrist injuries are the reasons Espinosa is having his worst year in 2013.  If he comes back to the big leagues for Washington, he most likely will be a reserve. He could be an everyday player elsewhere. He must cut down on the strikeouts to become an everyday player again.

RHP Dan Haren: Despite pitching well in the last month or so, Haren doesn’t think he will be back with the Nationals next year because of the season he has had, overall. He is 7-11 with a 4.99 ERA in 21 starts. The Nationals signed him to a one-year, $13 million deal to be one of their five starters this year.

1B Adam LaRoche: Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman is arguably having his worst year defensively, with a team-leading 17 errors. But that number doesn’t tell the whole story. He is still having throwing issues because of the surgery he had on his right shoulder. In fact in early June, Zimmerman said he expects the shoulder to be in rehab mode for the rest of the season, but it will not keep him out of the lineup. It would not be surprising if the Nationals decided to move Zimmerman from third to first base as early as September. That could mean trading LaRoche to make room for Zimmerman at the position.

OF Denard Span: The Nationals thought he would be their ideal leadoff man after they acquired him from the Twins for pitching prospect Alex Meyer. Entering Tuesday’s action against the Giants, Span is hitting .263 with a .312 on-base percentage. Even worst, he has a .167 batting average against left-handers. It’s not known if Span will get another chance next season.

Brian Goodwin is not ready to take over center fielder. The Nationals could try to acquire a center fielder this offseason. For example, Shin-Soo Choo is a free agent after the season. He currently has a .409 on-base percentage with the Reds.

C Kurt Suzuki: Most of the playing time behind the plate has gone to Wilson Ramos, so it is doubtful Suzuki will have his option vested for 2014. The Nationals have a plethora of quality catchers in the farm system, so it looks like Suzuki will take his services elsewhere after next season.

INF Chad Tracy: The leader of the Goon Squad, Tracy is not having a productive season like he did last year. Entering Tuesday’s action against the Giants, Tracy is 18-for-102 [.176] with three home runs six RBIs. He is not the only one who is not producing of the bench. The bench is one of the reasons the Nationals have been inconsistent this season.

Nats need to make improvements

WASHINGTON  — Entering Tuesday action, the Nationals were 54-58, 13 ½ games behind the Braves in the National League East and seven games behind the Reds in the Wild Card race. While manager Davey Johnson continues to have a positive attitude about his team, it’s pretty clear why the Nationals may not play in the postseason this year.

They rank near the bottom in offense and defense. They have also had their share of injuries. The worst was Bryce Harper, who missed more than a month of action because of a left knee injury.

“All the little things add up and they can affect your performance,” Johnson said. “It’s my job to stay positive and hope, at some point, we get it all going.”

What improvements should the Nationals make to get better? They need a leadoff hitter. Center fielder Denard Span has hit first for most of the season, and he is hitting .251 with a .310 on-base percentage at the top spot.

Ryan Zimmerman is arguably having his worst year defensively, with a team-leading 17 errors. But that number doesn’t tell the whole story. He is still having throwing issues because of the surgery he had on his right shoulder. In fact in early June, Zimmerman said he expects the shoulder to be in rehab mode for the rest of the season, but it will not keep him out of the lineup.

Zimmerman had arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder last October. While there wasn’t any labrum or rotator cuff damage, Zimmerman needed to have his AC joint fixed, and the surgery revealed the injury to be more serious than anticipated.

It would not be surprising if the Nationals decided to move Zimmerman from third to first base in the future. That could possibly mean trading first baseman Adam LaRoche to make room for Zimmerman.

Asked if Zimmerman needed to play a different position, Johnson said, “With the work he is putting in, I thought it’d take until June. Obviously, it has taken longer. If you see him throw early [during batting practice], he throws deeper and throws the ball on the line.

“I don’t know if it’s physical or mental. I see him throw pretty good, and then in the game, he will want to get a lot of air under it. If that doesn’t get better, obviously, it’s not a good spot for him to be in. At one time, he had a cannon, and we are all waiting for him to come back. I think it’s more mental and not trusting it and cutting it lose. I see him working, and he throws the ball pretty good.”

The bench was one reason the Nationals won the division title last year.  This year, not one reserve is hitting above .250 or has provided the pop off the bench. Before the Trade Deadline, the Nationals made an attempt to acquire veteran players for the bench. They were able acquire Scott Hairston from the Cubs, but since he has been in Washington, Hairston has played only against left-handed pitching.

The Nationals may need to look for two starting pitchers. Right-hander Dan Haren said recently he most likely will not be coming back because he has not lived up to expectations. Left-hander Ross Detwiler has missed most of the season because of a back injury. It’s not known if he will be healthy for next year.

The Nationals have a lot of work to do after the season comes to an end.

Johnson, Span and Monday’s ninth-inning bunt

By Tom Schad | Associate Reporter

With Anthony Rendon standing on first base and nobody out on Monday night against the Braves, manager Davey Johnson relayed a sign to Denard Span asking the center fielder to bunt for a hit.

The Nationals have two different signs for bunts: one to bunt for a sacrifice, the other to bunt for a hit. Span knew that this was a bunt for a hit.  And that confused him.

“Why would he give me the base-hit bunt?” Span said after the Nationals’ 3-2 loss. “It’s not surprising anybody.”

Sure enough, the Braves saw the play building and crashed toward the plate. Span put down the bunt and safely advanced the runner to second base, but he was easily thrown out at first by third baseman Chris Johnson. The play was scored as a sacrifice.

“It was one of those things where, when he gave it to me, it was kind of tough, because you know it’s a bunt situation and both sides are crashing,” Span said. “I wasn’t expecting to get a hit, because they already were way in on the grass.”

That out proved costly as Scott Hairston and Chad Tracy popped out in the next two at-bats to end the game. Johnson said he would’ve liked to see Span go all-out for the hit.

“He just decided to sacrifice,” Johnson said. “I would’ve rather seen him try to bunt and get on. That’s something he hasn’t done a lot of. But I didn’t want a straight sacrifice.”

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