Denard Span delivered a clutch two-out, game-tying double in the top of the ninth to keep the Nationals alive in Monday's 9-7 win.
No, Denard Span won't be hitting 20 home runs this season. If he hit 10, that would nearly double his career high.
But Span showed some quality selective aggressiveness in his five plate appearances on Monday. While he went only 1-for-4, he also managed to work a walk, and his one hit was arguably the most important one of the game. His two-out, game-tying double in the top of the ninth eventually sent the game to extra innings.
Many fans I've spoken to feel that an improved 2014 from Span means a spike in his stolen bases. But if Span wants to have those opportunities, it means he'll need to be on base. While Span struck out 77 times in 2013—not a horrible number—and posted a respectable .279 batting average, his on-base percentage was a career-low .327, just 48 points higher than his batting average.
Part of what makes Matt Williams such a great addition as the Nationals' new manager is his aggressive style. With Span's speed, Bryce Harper's combination of speed and power, etc., Williams may be the perfect manager to tap into the lineup's raw offensive potential. When he spoke to reporters at January's NatsFest, he said that it was important for the team to be aggressive, "but not reckless."
While the quote was directed at a previous question about Harper, it can certainly apply to Span as well. As the leadoff man, Span has several quality bats (Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond just to name a few) hitting behind him, and his job is to get on base in front of them. That doesn't always mean getting a hit, so the key will be knowing when to attack and when to take an outside pitch for a ball.
Span being selectively aggressive and working deep into counts will allow players like Harper, Zimmerman and Desmond to have a better idea of what pitchers are throwing. This could help spark offensive production from a Nationals team that was eighth in the National League in hits a season ago.
That said, Span told me at NatsFest that the number one thing he worked on this offseason was stealing bases—acceleration, getting good jumps and sliding. Williams did say he wanted Span to run more this season, and if he can improve his on-base percentage, that should result in many more than the 26 stolen base attempts he had a season ago.