MLB.com Columnist

Bill Ladson

Coming off career year, catalyst Span seeks more

Healthy after hernia surgery, leadoff man looks to top 31 steals, won't let contract status distract

Coming off career year, catalyst Span seeks more

VIERA, Fla. -- Nationals outfielder Denard Span arrived in camp Sunday and announced that he has fully recovered from December hernia surgery. However, Span indicated that he would take it slow early in the exhibition season.

Span suffered the injury toward the end of last season, but it wasn't enough to miss any games, including the National League Division Series against the Giants. After the postseason ended, Span thought rest would help ease the pain. It didn't go away, however, after he started training for the 2015 season.

"I'm not in a rehab mode. So I've been working out. I've been hitting, throwing, fielding. I've been doing everything," Span said. "From what has been communicated to me, we are going to take it slow, just be smart and realize that it's a long camp."

Span is coming off one of his best seasons, leading the Nationals in batting average (.302) and setting career highs in hits (184) and stolen bases (31). He said he has more to accomplish. Span wants to become an All-Star for the first time and steal more bases.

"I have to do better. I'm shooting for 32 stolen bases," Span said. "I don't like putting caps on my own ability. We'll see. I said 32. To me, I want to do better than last year. I want to improve on every facet of my game."

Manager Matt Williams said that Span is valuable in every aspect of the game. Williams went so far as to call Span a leader with a strong work ethic.

"He is the one that makes our team go. He is a Gold Glove-caliber center fielder, who throws well, who understands how to run the bases," Williams said. "He makes it comfortable for our pitching staff to go ahead and challenge a guy and know it will be caught when it's hit out there."

Like three of his teammates -- Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister -- Span could become a free agent after the 2015 season. Span said he thought about his contract situation during offseason, but believes once the season starts, he will not have time to think about free agency. His focus will be on winning the World Series.

"I worked my whole career to get to this point to become a free agent," Span said. "I'm excited about it, but at the same time, I'm concentrating on trying to do the best that I can to help this ballclub win. I feel if that happens, I do my job and we all do our jobs collectively, I'll get compensated. Everything will fall into place."

As of now, the Nationals have not approached Span about a contract extension. His future in D.C. could depend on outfielder Michael Taylor. If the prospect can be productive at the plate and cut down on his strikeouts, he could be a starting outfielder by 2016.

"The one thing we can control is that we have a Washington Nationals uniform on. I'm going to go out there and give it my all. That's all I can do," Span said.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.