In the middle of a month filled with negative developments, something positive actually is happening for the Nationals on Sunday: Denard Span is beginning a rehab assignment with Class A Potomac.
The injured center fielder and leadoff man, on the disabled list since July 10 with lower back pain, is expected to be in the lineup Sunday night when Potomac hosts Wilmington at 6:05 p.m. at Pfitzner Stadium, his first step toward rejoining the big-league roster.
This significant development comes only a week after Span suffered a setback in his attempted recovery from the lingering injury, one that left the 31-year-old openly admitting he didn't know if he'd be able to return this season. He was able to resume baseball activities quickly, though, and has spent the last week working out at Potomac while the big-league club has been struggling through a brutal West Coast trip that has left its season teetering on the brink.
If the Nationals can get Span back, they would boast a fully healthy lineup for the first time in 2015. And few members of that lineup have proven more important to the team's fortunes than Span, who is hitting .304 with a .367 on-base percentage, .798 OPS and 11 steals in 11 attempts in 59 games played.
Span's importance to the Nationals has been dramatic this season. They're 11 games over .500 when he plays, but now are 11 games under .500 when he doesn't play, leaving the club a disappointing 58-58 and 4 1/2 games back in the NL East entering Sunday's series finale in San Francisco.