VIERA, Fla. -- A few days after having surgery to repair his rectus abdominis (abdominal) muscle, Nationals center fielder Denard Span has been cleared to perform walking drills and lower abdominal exercises. In a couple of days, the doctor would like him to play catch lightly to see how the muscle responds.
Span is not expected to start the season on time because of the surgery. In an optimistic scenario, he could return to the diamond by May, as he's not expected to participate in baseball activities for another four to six weeks.
Span said he started feeling pain in the ab muscle six or seven weeks after having hernia surgery in early December. He was hoping the pain would go away by the time he arrived in Spring Training, but it grew worse after he played against the Mets last week at Space Coast Stadium. He underwent surgery in Philadelphia on Monday.
"I started to feel it about a month before I got here, but it was off and on," Span said. "I thought it would turn the corner. I thought it would get better. I had good days and so-so days. But I could still come out and move around. I just couldn't sprint. … I thought I would be all right once the games started. [Once the games started], that's when I knew deep in my heart that something wasn't right and I needed to get it taken care of.
"It's just frustrating. We went through this three months ago. It was an obstacle for me to come back and having the [hernia] surgery done during the offseason. It will be another obstacle to get back in the swing of things this year. I'm not discouraged by any means. If anything, I'm just trying to get myself mentally prepared for those obstacles."
The injury comes at a bad time for Span because he is slated to become a free agent after the season. He also wants to play because this could be the team's last chance to win a World Series with the current roster. Besides Span, shortstop Ian Desmond and right-handers Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister are in line to become free agents.
"This is probably the last year this ballclub has a chance to be together. We have a chance to do something special. That hurts more than the fact that I'm going to be a free agent," Span said. "You throw in the fact that I'm going to be a free agent. I truly believe God is trying to show me something. I'm going to take what I can go through, learn from it and it's going to be that much more sweeter when I'm back playing."
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.