Denard Span’s injury plagued season will come to an abrupt conclusion Tuesday when the Nationals leadoff man has surgery to repair the labrum in his left hip, but the club was able to breathe a bit easier Friday when it learned Michael Taylor (Span’s backup in center field) was not seriously injured during a scary-looking collision with the wall the previous night.
Span’s final diagnosis came Friday after he was examined by a specialist, who determined the injured hip required surgery to heal. With only five weeks remaining in the season, the outfielder won’t have enough time to return in 2015.
This will be Span’s third surgery in nine months, all of them related to some extent. He had a sports hernia repaired last winter, then required surgery for another abdominal tear in March when he tried to come back from the initial injury. The 31-year-old made his season debut April 19 but played through back pain on and off until finally going back on the DL in early July.
After seven weeks of rehab, Span returned this week amid much fanfare from a Nationals club that sorely needed his presence atop its lineup and in the field. But after playing in only two games, he was sidelined again, this time with hip pain that manager Matt Williams said had bothered him throughout the entire process.
“This game we play is not conducive to any of those joints, whether it’s your shoulder, your elbow, your hips, your back,” Williams said. “It’s all rotational, and at times it can be damaging. So he’s going to get it fixed and go from there. … He’s had some hip pain. But that type of pain is kind of all connected: hip, back, stomach, abdominal. Those tests were taken and it showed the need to have it repaired.”
When healthy enough to play this season, Span performed remarkably well given his diminished physical state. He wound up hitting .301 with a .365 on-base percentage, .431 slugging percentage and 11 stolen bases in as many tries over 61 games, all the way serving as a calming influence in center field.
A pending free agent at season’s end, Span now faces an uncertain future. The Nationals could decide to make him a qualifying offer after the World Series, which he could accept and return on a 1-year deal worth approximately $15 million. Or he could decline that offer and sign with another club, in which case the Nats would be awarded a compensatory draft pick.
Span seemed to be concerned about the his injury risk throughout the rehab process this summer. Though he felt strong enough to come off the DL earlier this week, he admitted he didn’t know how he would feel once he started playing in big-league games again.
“I don’t have a crystal ball,” he said Tuesday. “I’m just going to go for it. It’s time to go. I’ve worked hard. It’s definitely been a lot of guts and glory for me this year. I’ve had to dig deep this last month-and-a-half. I want to give D.C. everything I got and this organization and this fan base everything that I have. One thing they won’t be able to say after this is that ‘Denard Span isn’t tough.’ I’ve been through a lot, but I’m happy to be here today.”
The Nationals will sorely miss Span the rest of the season — their record when he plays is 36-25, but only 28-37 when he doesn’t — but the loss would’ve been even greater had Taylor suffered a major injury during Thursday night’s win over the Padres. The rookie center fielder appeared to be in serious pain after he slammed into the fence trying to catch Melvin Upton Jr.’s deep drive and had to be helped off the field by teammate Jayson Werth and assistant athletic trainer Steve Gober.
Though initially worried he had done significant damage to his right knee, Taylor said Friday he knew he would be OK once he returned to the clubhouse and stayed off his feet for awhile. He said all tests on the knee came back clean and that he felt like he could even come off the bench if needed despite the bad bruise.
“I think the video [looked] worse than it really was,” Taylor said. “I banged my knee pretty good when I went into the wall. But luckily nothing was broken or torn. … I’m very grateful and blessed. It could’ve been a lot worse. I was scared for a moment I tore something in my knee. When I rolled over, it was on fire, pretty bad. I’m happy the way things turned out, I guess.”
The news also was fairly positive on third baseman Yunel Escobar, who left Thursday’s game after getting hit by a pitch in the right hand. X-rays were negative and Escobar was diagnosed only with a bruise, though the hand was still sore and swollen on Friday and he was out of the lineup.
With Span back on the DL and Taylor at least not starting Friday, the Nationals had to cobble together a lineup that wound up featuring infielder Danny Espinosa making his first career start in left field, Bryce Harper making his second start of the season in center field, Werth shifting to right field and Trea Turner making the first start of his career and doing so at second base (which he only began learning how to play last week at Class AAA Syracuse).
“Danny, he’s an athlete, he can handle it,” Williams said. “He showed last night that he’s capable. And it gives him opportunity to get in the lineup and hit from the right side [against Marlins lefty Adam Conley] which is important. It provides us a little more thump in the lineup with Yunel out. It gives Trea an opportunity to get out there and make his first start, as well.”
Espinosa, a career middle infielder, has found himself all over the diamond this season, having now made his professional debuts at third base, first base and left field.
“It’s on a need-to-do basis,” he said. “I have to, because of who’s hurt right now. But it’s giving me an opportunity to play. … I’m taking it as a challenge to try to do something good. Obviously I prefer the infield. I like being. But I’ll try something new and do the best I can.”
Turner has been a shortstop throughout his brief professional career but got a bit of experience at second base last week while still in the minors and has spent time each afternoon working there with Nationals defensive coach Mark Weidemaier.
“It’s hard to recreate game situations,” Turner said. “But I’ve gotten a lot of practice. … I think I’ve gotten a lot better at it since I started practicing. I’ve just got to keep with it and kind of relax a little bit, not think too much.”