6/29/2014 12:45 P.M. ET
In one inning, Span makes two sparkling plays
By Joe Popely / MLB.com
CHICAGO -- Center fielder Denard Span made a couple of tremendous plays in the fourth inning of Saturday's doubleheader opener that helped the Nationals dispatch the Cubs, 3-0, at Wrigley Field.
Manager Matt Williams doesn't understand why anyone would be surprised.
"It's every day. You look back to the first couple of games [of the series] and he made a couple of plays in each gap to save extra-base hits for us," Williams said. "It's gold out there."
Span's first impressive play of the afternoon came in the fourth, when Justin Ruggiano led off with a drive to deep center. Span initially turned to his left before putting his head down, twisting back to the right and leaping against the ivy-covered brick wall to rob Ruggiano of extra bases.
"Well, I didn't anticipate twisting like that. I knew the ball was hit hard," Span said. "My first reaction was just to open up and get back and I think the wind might have blew the ball the other way, so that's why I had to take my eye off the ball, spin around and then find the ball and find the wall. Once I knew where the wall was, I looked up and just made a play."
Sounds simple enough. Most importantly, Span was able to protect himself from a nasty collision with the wall. Span recalled the Cubs' Junior Lake crashing into the metal door in right-center while trying to run down a ball in Thursday's game. That play knocked Lake out of the game in the second inning.
Span learned how to protect himself in the outfield through a different sport, however. A wide receiver at Tampa Catholic High School in Tampa, Fla., Span made the state All-Star football game as a junior in 2001.
"That comes from playing football, coming across the middle, catching the ball and protecting yourself," he said. "I always try to know where the wall is and try to protect myself, especially here with that brick wall."
After Anthony Rizzo walked, Span further filled his highlight reel on the third hitter of the inning, Starlin Castro, who blooped a fly to shallow center. In came a charging Span, who gloved it, transferred the ball from glove to hand and fired to first seemingly in one motion.
Span's throw doubled off Rizzo to end the inning. He said he worked extensively with an outfield coach in Minnesota, where he spent the first eight years of his career, on making that exact play.
"I've been working on it a while, but I knew that I just trusted myself. I just got rid of it quick, and my mechanics -- you really can't have good mechanics when you're throwing on the run like that," Span said. "You're running full speed. It's just about the transfer.
"You see infielders with quick hands, and it's just about catching the ball and trying to get rid of it as quick as possible."
Though he never played alongside longtime Twins outfielder Torii Hunter in the regular season, Span picked up a thing or two from the the nine-time Gold Glove Award winner.
"I got a chance to watch him in two or three Spring Trainings do all of his outfield work," Span said. "He's still to this day one of the smoothest guys I've seen."
Pretty soon they'll be saying that about Span.
Harper homers thrice; Monday return possible
CHICAGO -- Nationals manager Matt Williams has maintained it is a "possibility" Bryce Harper will return to team on Monday in Washington. On Saturday night, the two-time All-Star strengthened his case that the club should do just that.
Harper went 4-for-5 with three home runs and five RBIs as the designated hitter in Double-A Harrisburg's 10-4 win at Akron. It was the second straight game he played a full nine innings, something Williams said Harper would have to do without issue before the club would be confident in bringing him back. Harper has been out since April 25 after injuring his left thumb and undergoing surgery, and he was placed on the 15-day disabled list on April 27.
"He hit into a double play. He also did a couple other things," said a smirking Williams. "I'm sure there's a text waiting somewhere about his night and how he feels, so we'll have more info on that tomorrow."
Williams was in no rush after Saturday's doubleheader sweep to make a declaration about Harper's next move. Harper is scheduled to play another nine-inning game on Sunday, this time in left field.
"It depends on how he feels. We'll get the report, we'll talk to him and see how he's feeling and whether there's any soreness or anything like that," Williams said. "We'll see how it goes tomorrow."
On Friday, Harper manned center field in Harrisburg's 4-3 win over Akron, chipping in a single, two walks, two RBIs and two stolen bases in three attempts. Harper initially hurt his thumb diving head-first into third base.
"We're going to continue to encourage him to slide feet-first," Williams said. "He wears a protective guard that would, if you got in a situation where he got the thumb on the bag, it would stop it. But it's hard to take that away from him, because that's the way he plays. We would encourage to slide feet-first when at all possible."
Zimmerman getting more infield work
CHICAGO -- Ryan Zimmerman hasn't played third base since April 12, but that could change soon.
Zimmerman missed close to two months due to a thumb injury. That time off allowed him to rest his ailing right shoulder, which has bothered him in recent seasons. That, coupled with Anthony Rendon's emergence, pushed Zimmerman to left field, where he's played in 23 of the 24 games since he returned from the DL on June 3.
Zimmerman, who's made 95 percent of his career appearances at third, took ground balls at third for the first time since coming off the DL before Monday's game in Milwaukee. Nationals manager Matt Williams said Zimmerman has taken grounders at third twice since then, while also getting some work in at first, which he played June 15.
Williams said Zimmerman will rotate among first, third and left when Bryce Harper returns, and that he's pleased with Zimmerman's progress in left.
"He's done really well. He's played well out there," Williams said. "He's a good athlete, a really good athlete. We can put him anywhere and he'd be fine. It's about what the needs of the team are, and he's willing to do whatever is necessary, which is a testament to him and his attitude and his willingness to win and to help us win. He's good with it."
Williams: LaRoche deserves All-Star nod
CHICAGO -- Adam LaRoche is putting together an All-Star-caliber year, but faces an uphill battle at a strong position.
As of the latest balloting update, LaRoche sits outside the top five vote-getters among National League first basemen. Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt, who was second among NL players at the position with a .916 OPS and 15 home runs entering Saturday, leads the way with nearly two million votes.
LaRoche sits just behind Goldschmidt with a .913 OPS and he cranked his 10th homer Friday, yet trails even Milwaukee's Mark Reynolds, who's hit just .218.
LaRoche could have even gaudier stats if not for a strained right quadriceps muscle that has limited him to 62 games. Goldschmidt, meanwhile, has played 81.
"He has made a great case [to be on the All-Star team]," manager Matt Williams said. "Any time you miss time [because of an injury], it's difficult. … He has played really well."
Fans can cast their votes for starters at MLB.com -- online or on a mobile device -- using the 2014 All-Star Game MLB.com Ballot Sponsored by Experian until Thursday, July 3, at 11:59 p.m. ET. The 2014 All-Star Game will be played at Target Field on Tuesday, July 15 on FOX.
• Following Saturday's doubleheader, the Nats will have played 81 games, the exact halfway point of the season.
"For me, certainly not where we'd like to be and also not where we could be given all that's gone on," Williams said. "I think we've got a group of guys that continue to battle hard every day, that use nothing as an excuse and play."
• Entering Saturday, Washington had committed just three errors since June 7. They've posted a .992 fielding percentage this month after struggling to a .975 percentage in April and a .980 percentage in May.
• The Nationals were 19-14 and averaged 4.6 runs per game when Zimmerman was in the starting lineup. Entering Saturday, they've gone 22-24 while averaging 3.5 runs per game without him. Zimmerman started in left field in Game 1 of Saturday's twin bill.
Joe Popely is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.