WASHINGTON -- Nationals center fielder Denard Span made two great plays that prevented the Reds from scoring in a 6-3 victory on Saturday afternoon at Nationals Park.
With right-hander Tyler Clippard on the mound in the seventh inning, pinch-hitter Todd Frazier singled to left field, scoring Jay Bruce to make it a three-run game. Clippard then walked Shin-Soo Choo to load the bases. But Clippard was able to get Zack Cozart to line out to Span -- who made a great running catch -- to end the threat. It was Span's second web gem of the day.
An inning earlier, with right-hander Dan Haren on the mound and a runner on first, Joey Votto hit a ball to deep left-center field. Span climbed the wall and made a spectacular catch for the second out of the inning, preventing a run from scoring.
"With Votto, I was already playing deep. You respect his power. I'm not sure if the ball would have went over, but I was prepared to bring it back if it went out," Span said. "The Cozart ball, that was my favorite out of the two today, because I was shading him over to the opposite field and he lined it to the left-center gap. It was fun for me to go out there to run and show my speed and grab the ball in the gap."
Clippard was grateful that Span was able to save him from being the goat of the game.
"Span gets really good reads on jumps. The thing about Denard is, he is fast," Clippard said. "And there are a lot of fast outfielders, but some of them don't get the best jumps. A lot of the times, the great plays or the diving plays you see guys get, it's because they are not getting good jumps, but they are fast and athletic enough to make those diving plays. And a play like that, [Span] didn't have to dive. He had such a good read, he just cruised under it."
Span believes he was able to make the two plays because of an outfield drill he did with first-base coach Tony Tarasco earlier this week. Trying to get used to the gaps in left- and right-center field at Nationals Park, Span had Tarasco hit some balls to the gaps during practice in order to get an idea where the wall was located. Span missed catching a couple of balls in the outfield earlier this week against the Cardinals.
But according to Tarasco, the drills had nothing to do with the great catches Span made Saturday.
"He has proven to be such a tremendous athlete. He is so tenacious about his defense. He is so sound. It's not flashy," Tarasco said. "… It's a combination of his positioning, the way he reads hitters, the way he reads his own pitchers. He closes ground on balls, you don't think he will get to. His jumps are outstanding. Once he gets in stride, it's like he skips after the baseball."
Zimmerman, Ramos to return from DL soon
WASHINGTON -- Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and catcher Wilson Ramos hope to be activated by the Nationals sometime next week.
Zimmerman informed manager Davey Johnson on Friday that he is feeling much better, but he will not travel with the team to Atlanta. Instead, Zimmerman will attempt to play in a rehab assignment early next week. The team has yet to determine where Zimmerman will be assigned.
Zimmerman, who is on the disabled list because of a left hamstring strain, is hoping to be activated by the time the team opens a series with the Pirates on Friday.
Once Zimmerman returns to action, the Nationals will likely send third baseman Anthony Rendon back to Double-A Harrisburg.
As for Ramos, he is currently on a rehab assignment at Harrisburg and should be activated by Monday when the Nationals play the Braves. He, too, is on the DL as a result of a left hamstring injury. Ramos will return to the team on Sunday.
Espinosa bats second in order on Saturday
WASHINGTON -- Nationals manager Davey Johnson decided to put second baseman Danny Espinosa in the second spot in the lineup against the Reds on Saturday.
By slotting Espinosa near the top of the order, Johnson wants him to see better pitches and get on base more often. Entering Saturday's action, Espinosa was 12-for-65 [.185] with two home runs and six RBIs.
"I want him to think about line drives, getting on base and that kind of thing," Johnson said.
Batting near the top of the order is nothing new to Espinosa. He has played a combined 120 games batting either first or second, and he has a combined .203 batting average [100-for-492] with 12 home runs 41 RBIs.
There is no denying, however, that Espinosa is one of the best defensive second basemen in baseball. He is often making acrobatic plays at second base and Johnson said he is going to stick with Espinosa the way he stuck with shortstop Ian Desmond after the 2011 season.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.