Even-keeled Span making big impact for Nats

Center fielder riding 36-game on-base streak, playing top-notch defense

Even-keeled Span making big impact for Nats

NEW YORK -- Nationals center fielder Denard Span acknowledges that he is more relaxed this year than he was at this time last year. It helps that he's gained better familiarity with his teammates and vice versa.

"They know they type of person and player I am. It gives me more confidence," Span said. "The people understand me more. I work my butt off and I play the game hard."

Being more relaxed has carried over onto the field. Entering Tuesday's action against the Mets, Span is on a 14-game hitting streak and has reached base in 36 consecutive games.

The current success doesn't tell the whole story, though. Span has seen his on-base percentage climb to .360, and he leads the Nationals with 32 doubles. He is also on pace reach a career best in stolen bases. Span currently has 23 steals, while his career high is 26 with the Twins in 2010.

Let's not forget that Span is arguably the best defensive center fielder in baseball. Not many balls fly by this 30-year-old speedster. Since coming to the Nats last season, Span has made only one error. Last year, Span was not rewarded with a National League Gold Glove Award, but he should be a leading candidate to win one this year.

Asked if this is his best season in the big leagues, Span pointed out that the season is not over yet.

"I'm not satisfied. I'm always staying hungry," Span said. "I feel like I can do more. I'm hard on myself. I just want to continue to come here every day and just do what I've been doing and just try to get better and help this team win."

Manager Matt Williams is one of Span's biggest supporters. Despite calls that Span should hit down in the order, Williams never wavered. Span is his leadoff hitter for the rest of the season.

Williams also pointed out that Span saves a lot of runs because of the excellent defense he provides in center field.

"My thought about Denard is that he prepares every single day," Williams said. "I know from experience that it's important to be able to score runs, but it's doubly important to prevent runs. That's what I believe in. I believe that Denard has played and earned the right to be where he is at. Not just this year, but last year, too. He didn't make an error last year, not one error. That's important to our club."

In fact, Span credits Williams for the season he's currently enjoying. After being benched twice in a week earlier in the season, Span went to Williams and explained that he takes his job seriously. That's when Williams assured him that he would be his everyday center fielder.

"He stood up for me," Span said about Williams. "That goes a long way with me. I'm a very loyal person, so when somebody sticks their neck out for me, I take that to heart. That means a lot to me. I give a lot of credit to him. He has never wavered. Even when I wasn't playing well, he never went away from his word. That has given me the confidence to get going."

The season that Span is having comes at a time when the Nationals have to make a decision about his future. He could become a free agent if they don't pick up his $9 million option for 2015.

In late May, Span did not think he would be with the Nats after this year. He declined to give a reason for his possible departure. At the time, Span was hitting around .270, and that was when Bryce Harper suggested he should be the starting center fielder after he returned from his left thumb injury.

Asked on Sunday if he thought the Nationals would pick up his option, Span said, "I don't know. I've never been at that this position where my contract has been up like this. The team has the decision to pick it up. I really don't know. Do I want to be here? Of course. I would like to be here even longer than next year. We'll see."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.