The Washington Nationals have already fired one hitting coach this season. Should they consider making another change at that position this year, thanks to Denard Span and his mother?
Rick Eckstein was canned in mid-July, scapegoated for an offense that had scored the second-fewest runs in the NL (367) at the time. The Nats were also near the bottom of the league in team batting average (.241) and OPS (.686). As a result, general manager Mike Rizzo called Rick Schu up from the minors to take over hitting coach duties.
But has Schu gotten the immediate results from any Nats hitter that Span received from his mother's advice over the weekend?
As the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore tweeted, Span's mother told her son that he needed to swing at the first pitch more often. Span followed his mom's tip on Sunday against the Kansas City Royals and had a great day at the plate because of it.
In the third inning, the Nationals center fielder singled on a first-pitch fastball from Ervin Santana. During his next at-bat in the seventh, Span jumped on a first-pitch changeup for a home run. In the ninth, he smacked the first pitch from Greg Holland — a 99 mph fastball — for another single.
The one time Span didn't swing at the first pitch on Sunday? He grounded out to first base.
Obviously, Mother knows best, right? Span didn't think so at first.
“I was [ticked] off,” Span told reporters after the game, laughing. “I didn’t even reply back to her.”
As I'm sure we all know, it's sometimes the tough love from Mom that helps the most. Span's mother knows that herself, having taken a foul ball to the chest from her son in 2010. They play rough in the Span family!
Let's give Schu his proper credit, though. He got Span to relax at the plate. As a separate article by Kilgore explains, Schu advised Span to move his hands and rest them on his shoulder before swinging. That's prevented the swing from being too "choppy."
Moving Span to the seventh spot in the lineup at one point also helped with his approach. Rather than try to see more pitches, hitting lower in the batting order liberated Span to be more aggressive. That resulted in a .356 batting average and .956 OPS in 46 plate appearances. Span took that philosophy back to the leadoff spot and has been more successful since then.
The Nationals' offense has actually been far better during the second half of the season ranking third in batting average and first in OPS. Having a healthy Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman in the lineup, Adam LaRoche overcoming an early-season slump and Anthony Rendon taking over at second base for Danny Espinosa surely have much to do with that. But Schu has definitely made a difference with his tutelage, focusing more on a approach than mechanics.
Or maybe the Nats' hitters just needed to hear another voice. Like Mom's.