Span getting in the swing of things

Span getting in the swing of things
July 2, 2013, 6:15 pm
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Zimmermann thankful for run support

Jayson Werth returned to the Nationals lineup, then Bryce Harper and soon Wilson Ramos. The run-scoring component of the offensive attack also made a splashy appearance over the previous two games with a combined 23 runs. Nobody is expecting the team to score 11 or so a night, but at least now, Davey Johnson's has a deeper set of batting options from which he can keep tweaking those daily lineups.

Not that Johnson went that route for Tuesday's meeting against the Brewers after his side plated 10 in the series opener. However, one pregame question for the manager centered on whether now there was an opportunity to sit centerfielder Denard Span in certain situations. By certain situations, we mean against left-handed pitchers. The unsightly number speak loudly.

On the season, the lefty-swinging Span is batting .263 with a .318 on-base percentage in 334 plate appearances. In 91 plate appearances against lefties, the Nationals' leadoff batter's numbers are .145 and .220 respectively.

Johnson wouldn't take the bait about any future switching, but also didn't deny Span's struggles against southpaws.

"His M.O. against lefthanders is pretty good - just not this year, obviously," Johnson stated. For his career, Span is a .278 hitter against left-handers, reaching base 36 percent of the time.

Johnson offered a technical explanation for Span's struggles in his first year with the Nationals.

"Sometimes guys when they go the other way, they have a different stroke then they do when they pull," Johnson said. "Really, it's the same stroke. His swing when he goes the other way is a little longer and it's deeper. That's the not the way you want to hit the ball...it's the same swing as the pull swing. He needs to be more consistent with that."

From the manager's perspective, Span is starting to do just that.

"His approach has been better the last week or so," Johnson said.

Span's recent production supports such a claim. He's generated at least one hit in eight of his last nine games including three in five at-bats on Monday when Washington hammered the New York Mets 13-2. In that nine-game stretch, Span is batting .351 (13 for 37) and raised his OBP eight points.

Perhaps the simplest explanation for the recent improvement is something Allen Iverson never loved: practice, practice, practice.

"BP is where you need to work on your stroke and he's been a lot better," Johnson said of Span. "His best strokes this year have been when he's pulled. When he went up the middle or the other way, they weren't as short and to the ball. Here lately, the last road trip to New York, he took a ball on the outside part of the plate and rifled it to left. That's the stroke he needs.

The Nationals offense needs a hitting, running Span atop their lineup. It's not enough to have big boppers like Werth, Harper, Zimmerman and Desmond. The table setters, speedy or otherwise, have to do their part in the run-producing process.

"On base percentage, you want your guys that get on base a lot to lead off, hit second," Johnson generically explained. "Ideally, you have your highest on-base guy hit first. Then you have to factor in the run producers, guys that it the ball out of the ballpark, get the extra base hits. ...The worst thing that can happen is having a guy hit .240 who gets on-base 26 percent of the time and have him lead off just because he can run. That's not going to help if he's never on."

*Harper fell to fourth among Nationals League outfielders in the latest All-Star voting update, but not far behind Atlanta's Justin Upton. Should the brash 20-year-old find himself part of the NL roster, Johnson would have no issue with Harper heading to Citi Field even those he's missed 37 games this year.

Johnson: "I think it's a great honor. I think you go. He's well rested. Needs some more ABs."

* LHP Ross Detwiler (2-6, 4.13) will start Wednesday for the Nationals," Johnson said. Detwiler developed a stiff back after pitching five innings in his last start on Friday.

*RHP Dan Haren is scheduled to pitch a simulated game on Wednesday. If all goes well, he would return to the Nationals rotation on July 8 or 9. "The ball was coming out of his hand real good," Johnson said of Haren's recent throwing session. "His cutter had a little better tilt. Everything was good."

*Johnson recently said he hoped to have catcher Wilson Ramos (left hamstring) back with the big league club by July 4. That plan is still in place. Johnson hopes Ramos will serve as the designated hitter at Potomac on Wednesday before facing the Brewers on Thursday.

*Lucas Giolito will make his season debut on Wednesday in the rookie league for the Gulf Coast Nationals. Washington's 2012 first-round selection, who turns 19 later this month, has recovered from Tommy John surgery. MASNSports first reported the news of Giolito's debut.

*The Nationals outrighted RHP Cole Kimball to Triple-A Syracuse.