Thursday, June 11, 2009

Span's Spins Spell Trouble

With two on and one out in the second inning on Tuesday night, Denard Span stepped up to the plate for his second at-bat of the game. The outfielder fouled off the first two pitches he saw from Brett Anderson, then took a ball. On a 1-2 count, he swung wildly at a seemingly hittable pitch on the outside part of the plate, missing it by several inches. It was one of the most awkward swings we've seen from a Twins batter this year and certainly an uncharacteristic one for Span, who has great hand-eye coordination and rarely swings and misses. It was almost like Span had swung at the pitch with his eyes closed.

As it turns out, that wasn't far from the truth. Span later told reporters that he was suffering from dizziness during the game and "just didn't even see the ball" during the aforementioned at-bat. Shortly after the ugly strikeout, Span was removed from the game, and yesterday he traveled back to Minneapolis to see a specialist about this recurring dizziness issue, which caused him to miss a pair of games back in late May as well.

This is peculiar ailment and Span seems as mystified about it as any of us. He notes that the dizziness may be attributable to his offseason Lasik surgery, which was performed on one eye and not the other (a fact I was unaware of) but says he's never experienced problems like this while playing baseball in the past. Said Span: "It's kind of scary."

There's plenty of reason for Twins fans to be scared, too, if this issue ends up keeping Span out of the lineup for an extended period of time. The huge success experienced by Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer and the strong slugging performances by Jason Kubel, Michael Cuddyer and Joe Crede this year have somewhat reduced the attention paid to Span's successful sophomore season. Many were skeptical as to whether Span would be able to back up his outstanding rookie campaign, which seemingly came out of nowhere, but he has continued to be an anchor at the top of the Twins lineup. With his abilities to consistently take lengthy at-bats, draw walks at a solid rate, steal bases and hit well against all types of pitchers, Span has essentially been a prototypical leadoff man, something this franchise has been seeking for some time.

If Span is out of the lineup, the Twins lack inspiring options to fill that top spot. Carlos Gomez has been Ron Gardenhire's default choice in the past, but placing a 587 OPS in a position to receive more at-bats than any other player on the team is terribly misguided. Other players who would seemingly fall into Gardenhire's leadoff mold, such as Alexi Casilla, Nick Punto and Matt Tolbert, are also offensive liabilities who belong nowhere near the top of the order. Mauer's on-base skills make him a logical choice to bat leadoff, but that's simply not a move Gardenhire would make.

Hopefully Span and his doctor can reach a conclusion as to what this lingering issue is and get it taken care of. He's been so solid and consistent in the leadoff spot that some fans may have come to take his contributions this year for granted, but be assured: you'll notice his absence in a hurry.


This afternoon I'm heading to Chicago, where I'll be catching baseball at Wrigley Field this weekend. I'd like to try and file a report of some kind this weekend, but you may not be hearing back from me until Monday or Tuesday. Enjoy the weekend!