6/4/2014 7:20 P.M. ET
Span heating up by slowing down
By Daniel Popper / MLB.com
WASHINGTON -- Heading into Wednesday night's contest against the Phillies, Nationals leadoff man Denard Span has batted .407 over his last 12 games with 11 runs, five doubles and his only home run of the season.
During that 12-game stretch, Span's on-base percentage has gone from .308 to .324 while his batting average has jumped from .263 to .281.
The key? Staying relaxed at the plate.
"It simplifies everything," Span said. "It slows things down."
Manager Matt Williams has noticed that the speedy center fielder is seeing the ball particularly well.
"He's letting it get a little deeper, letting it travel a little bit more … the results kind of tell you that," Williams said. "If he's able to stay on a breaking ball and hit it to right, it means he's on the ball. Or if he's able to take a fastball the other way, he's letting it travel and get deeper."
Williams estimates Harper's return around July 1
WASHINGTON -- Nationals left fielder Bryce Harper (torn ligament in left thumb) took hand-rolled ground balls and practiced throwing on Tuesday as the next step in his rehab process.
"He's just doing some fielding with his glove and some throwing just to maintain as much motion as he can," manager Matt Williams said.
Harper is still not cleared for baseball activity, including swinging a bat or playing catch, but he continues to work with therapists to try to strengthen the injured ligament. Williams said a good target date for Harper's return would be July 1, but it largely depends on how the rest of the rehab process goes.
Williams said Harper's situation is very different from third baseman Ryan Zimmerman's fractured thumb. Once Zimmerman's bone healed, his return to the field for baseball activity and rehab starts was relatively quick. On the other hand, Williams said Harper would take longer to get back in shape defensively because he is not able to do as many things with his injured ligament.
"He's itching," Williams said. "He's pacing. But that's one of those things where he's 21 years old and if it doesn't heal right, it can affect him long-term."
Zimmerman returns to add another weapon
WASHINGTON -- In the bottom of the fifth inning of Tuesday night's series opener between the Nationals and Phillies, Philadelphia right-hander Dave Buchanan intentionally walked hot-hitting Adam LaRoche with two outs to get to Ryan Zimmerman, who was making his first start since returning from the disabled list with a fractured right thumb.
The walk put runners on first and second, and Zimmerman made the Phillies pay with his second double of the night, scoring Denard Span from second to extend the Nationals' lead to 4-0. Washington went on to win the game, 7-0.
"That's depth in your lineup," Williams said. "You've got somebody to get to that, has loads of experience and has the ability to hit the ball to all fields and drive a run in."
Two innings earlier, Anthony Rendon worked a walk to load the bases for Jayson Werth, who blasted a ground-rule double that bounced over the left-center-field fence to drive in the first two runs of the game.
"We've got some veteran guys that are in the middle of our lineup that know how to drive runs in and we've got some guys certainly at the top that can get on base for them," Williams said. "It's special when it all works together, when it's all rolling together."
Shoulder woes send prospect Garcia to DL
WASHINGTON -- Triple-A Syracuse right-hander Christian Garcia was placed on the seven-day disabled list Wednesday because of shoulder discomfort, MLB.com has learned.
Garcia reached the Major Leagues for the first time in 2012 and made an immediate impact in the bullpen. He was then added to the National League Division Series roster against the Cardinals.
Former manager Davey Johnson was hoping to turn Garcia into a starter, but he suffered a right forearm strain during Spring Training in 2013. He spent most of the season on the disabled list because of the injury.
Garcia was with the Major League team during Spring Training of this season, but was sent down to Syracuse, where he went 1-1 with a 2.45 ERA in 10 games before the most recent setback.
• Left-hander Gio Gonzalez (shoulder inflammation) threw 35 pitches in the bullpen on Wednesday in preparation for his rehab start with Class A Advanced Potomac on Friday.
• Nationals reliever Tyler Clippard has gone 18 2/3 innings without surrendering an earned run. The right-hander's streak dates back to April 11.