Denard Span, in official terms, was still a member of the Nationals’ active roster late Tuesday night. The veteran center fielder, though, sure sounded like a guy who believes he needs to take some extended time off with a back injury that just won’t go away.
“I’ve tried to play through it for the last month,” Span said following Tuesday night’s 5-0 loss to the Reds. “I don’t think I’m doing myself or the team any good. I’ve been playing every four days and then getting a day off here and there. I can’t do that. I can’t do that to the team. It puts the team in a bad spot.”
Since first experiencing back spasms during a June 7 loss to the Cubs, Span has either been out of the lineup or forced out of a game early eight separate times. He has so far never missed two consecutive games, but after leaving Monday night’s loss in the third inning and being held out of Tuesday night’s games, he underwent an MRI to determine if there is a more serious underlying injury.
Span and manager Matt Williams said Tuesday night those MRI results had not yet been reviewed by a back specialist, and that no decisions would be made until that happened. Williams, though, was unusually late to his postgame news conference — a delay typically accompanies a roster transaction — and Span sounded like someone resigned to a DL stint afterward.
“Right now we’re waiting to see what the doctor’s going to do,” he said. “I’ve tried to take it into my own hands and tried to play. I’ve tried to tough it out for the last month, and it’s been the same old cycle. I’ve listened to my body. My body is obviously telling me something. It’s locked up on me about four times now.
“It ain’t about being smart, because I’ve been dumb, I think, for the last month. Now I’ve gotta finally be smart and listen to my body and find out what’s going on before I go any further. I don’t want to mess around with my back. That could be a career-ending-type injury. I don’t want to mess around with my back.”
Regardless of the MRI results, Span is scheduled to see the specialist in person Thursday, when the Nationals are off before a weekend series in Baltimore.
Despite all the sporadic time out of the lineup this season — he has missed 25 total games due to a variety of ailments — Span has performed well when healthy enough to play. He’s hitting .304 with a .367 on-base percentage, five homers, 22 RBI and is 11-for-11 in stolen base attempts, all while playing an exceptional center field.
Span’s importance to the Nationals can’t be questioned. The club is 35-24 when he has played this season, only 11-14 when he has been out of the lineup.
The 31-year-old, a pending free agent, was one of five regulars out of the Nationals lineup Tuesday night, joined by Yunel Escobar (tight hamstring) and three players already on the DL (Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon, Jayson Werth).
Should Span need to go on the DL himself, the Nationals would find themselves dangerously thin on productive, established, big-league hitters. Right now, though, Span can only be concerned about his own uncertain status.
“I’m very anxious right now,” he said. “I want to know what’s going on.”