WASHINGTON — Nationals center fielder Denard Span is primed to hit free agency nearly recovered from season-ending hip surgery.
Span, 31, averaged .292 at the plate with 84 doubles, 19 triples and 14 home runs over three seasons with the Nationals, though he only played in 61 games in 2015 due to a devastating string of injuries, all of which were believed to be related to two “core muscle” surgeries last offseason.
He missed the first two weeks recovering from the second surgery. Then on a June road trip in Chicago, Span began experiencing back spasms, which he would play through as they cropped up over the course of the next month. He began his second Disable List stint after the first week of July, and after returning to play two games in late August, Span was again placed on the DL, this time with a season-ending hip injury, requiring surgery.
Span’s absence from the lineup was indicative of larger health issues for the 2015 Nationals. Everyday starters Span, Anthony Rendon and Jayson Werth combined to miss 257 total games. It wasn’t until Game 124 the Nationals were finally able to field their projected Opening Day lineup, and they enjoyed it for all of two days.
Span provided an update on his health Monday afternoon on MLB Network Radio’s “Power Alley” on SiriusXM, where he was asked by hosts Mike Ferrin and Mike Stanton if his hip injury had stemmed from all the others.
“I feel like it totally came from the two sports hernia surgeries that I had early on, starting off during the offseason last year and then into spring training.” Span said. “I probably came back a little too early from both of the injuries and I think it just led to the hip giving in to me. That was me trying to hurry back and help my team, and if I had to do it all over again, probably I would do the same thing, but it would have been smart if I would have taken a little bit more time.”
The Nationals’ 83-win season was a tremendous disappointment, by Nationals standards. Entering the season as consensus World Series favorites, Washington relinquished their division lead to the New York Mets on Aug. 2 and never got it back. When it was all over, the Mets were in the playoffs to mount what would become a World Series run, and Nats manager Matt Williams — the NL Manager of the Year just a season ago — was fired.
“It’s unfortunate that Matt had to take the downfall for our shortcomings,” Span said. “And the reality of it is we all — top to bottom — came up short.”
Asked about the difference experience can make with a manager, Span said, “I think the big word you just said was experience, right there. Yeah, I think experience definitely is the best teacher, just knowing how to handle the team when you’re going through those periods of time when the team isn’t playing good, maybe the team’s not gelling. I think a veteran manager has a good feel for its players, and I think that’s the biggest difference.”
“I’m not saying that to say that Matt Williams didn’t have that,” he specified. “So I don’t want you guys to try to connect two and two, but that’s the biggest difference, really. But I’ve also seen younger managers come in other organizations and do it the other way around, as well.”
“We had a good relationship,” he said of Williams. “I thought that he did good. I think he’s obviously getting a lot of fall for our shortcomings, but you can’t put it all on him. Us as the players, we’ve got to be accountable. We had a lot of bad things happen for us this past year, had a lot injuries; myself, Jayson Werth was out for a while, Anthony Rendon was out for a while, Stephen Strasburg was out multiple times. You don’t want to point to that as an excuse, just nothing went well for us this year.”
With Game 1 of the World Series between the Mets and Royals scheduled for Tuesday, Span was asked about the deceptiveness of NL East rival pitcher Matt Harvey, against whom Span has a lifetime .182 average with four strikeouts in 11 at-bats.
“Honestly, I’ve tried to forget about him, to be honest with you, because it just hasn’t gone good.”
Span declined to comment on his impending free agent status: “Technically I’m not even a free agent yet, so I don’t know what’s going to happen, but they know my stance.”