Bill Ladson

With Span out, Gwynn has shot to make Nationals

Outfielder eyeing bench role with Washington

With Span out, Gwynn has shot to make Nationals

VIERA, Fla. -- With Nationals outfielder Denard Span not expected to be ready for Opening Day because of a right core muscle injury, outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr. has a chance to make the team as a backup. So far, Gwynn is making the most of his opportunities.

Entering Tuesday's game against the Marlins, Gwynn is 3-for-5 with two runs scored -- not bad for a guy who started Spring Training last week. Gwynn credits Triple-A Syracuse hitting coach Joe Dillon and Nationals hitting coach Rick Schu for his early success.

"I'm making some strides," Gwynn said. "We have some coaches who are familiar with my swing. I played for Joe Dillon when I was a young guy in 2007 and '08 [for the Brewers]. He is familiar with what I'm doing. Schu has been great. Having those guys tag team accelerated the process as far as getting where I need to be."

Gwynn reiterated that he had a bad year last year with the Phillies because his father, Baseball Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn Sr., was ill and eventually passed away because of salivary gland cancer.

"I was dealing with that, plus getting sporadic at-bats and things of that nature makes it more difficult. Baseball is tough enough by itself," Gwynn said. "When you have other things playing in different directions, it makes it hard."

Span's injury doesn't change the way Gwynn approaches Spring Training.

"I have to come in and do the things they asked me to do before they knew [Span] was going to be out," Gwynn said. "It's about coming in here, being productive with the parts of my game that I'm pretty good at. I'm taking it one day at a time."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for 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.